California Gun Owners, Firearms Retailers Join Lawsuit Against NSA Phone Surveillance

California's largest gun owners' advocacy group and the state's association of firearms retailers have joined 17 other organizations, including the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles, in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the National Security Agency's phone record collection program.

The Calguns Foundation and the California Association of Federal Firearms Licensees, the statewide industry association of firearms manufacturers, dealers, collectors, training professionals and shooting ranges, are plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed in federal court on July 16 in San Francisco.

Following former government contractor Edward Snowden's recent disclosures about the federal government's extensive phone surveillance program, the NSA acknowledged that it collects records on millions of phone calls within the U.S. The agency said the data includes the time and duration of calls, as well as the phone numbers involved, but not content of conversations. The NSA told the Associated Press that it only "queries" the database a limited number of times for "specific national security reasons."

The lawsuit, orchestrated by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, claims that the NSA spying violates the First Amendment right "to communicate anonymously, associate privately, and engage in political advocacy free from government interference" and breaches the Fourth Amendment because a secret court is authorizing surveillance against Americans.

The suit specifically targets Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to authorize broad warrants for most any type of records, including those held by banks, doctors and phone companies.

In a July 17 phone press conference, Calguns co-founder Gene Hoffman said some members fear the NSA has tapped into a hotline the group provides for gun owners to ask questions about the state's "byzantine and intricate" gun laws.

"California gun owners are, shall we say, understandably paranoid" about government agencies possibly recording the number, destination and duration of their phone calls.

"The stereotype of gun owners being paranoid turned out to be true," he said, noting that gun owners are now hesitant to use the hotline.

Hoffman said gun owners who belong to a range of advocacy groups could be exposed to elevated scrutiny if the government cross-references their phone calls. For example, he said, if a Calguns member is also a member of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), "that could generate government interest because the government might presume that person owns a gun and also uses marijuana."

The full list of plaintiffs: First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles; Bill of Rights Defense Committee; Calguns Foundation; California Association of Federal Firearms Licensees; Council on Islamic Relations; Franklin Armory; Free Press; Free Software Foundation; Greenpeace; Human Rights Watch; Media Alliance; National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws; Open Technology Institute; People for the American Way, Public Knowledge; Students for Sensible Drug Policy; TechFreedom; and Unitarian Universalist Service Committee.