A federal judge reluctantly denied the National Rifle Association’s use of pseudonyms instead of plaintiffs’ real names in a challenge to a new Florida law placing age restrictions on gun purchases. U.S. District Judge Mark Walker acknowledged the group’s concern for privacy amid the volatile debate over guns, but explained the request for anonymity lacks precedent.
“[T]he NRA has not really identified any information of ‘utmost intimacy’ that would be revealed if Jane and John Doe were forced [to] use their real names,” Walker said in his order. “All we know so far is that they’re nineteen years old, they live in Florida, they’re members of the NRA, they haven’t been convicted of a felony, they haven’t been adjudicated mentally defective, they want to buy firearms, and they want to support the NRA with this lawsuit.”
In court documents, the NRA said it feared that its plaintiffs — two 19-year-old NRA members, one male and one female — would be subjected to harassment and threats if they were identified by name. The organization pointed to nasty emails received by state representative and former NRA president Marion Hammer to show what kind of vitriol the debate spurs.
But, Walker explained the legal use of a pseudonym has been limited to cases where the subject matter is sensitive or personal like religion, sexuality or involving a minor. Whereas the NRA’s case challenges the government over public policy, so there’s no reputational or economic risk involved for plaintiffs like there would be if they sued a private party.
“If it were entirely up to this Court, this Court would not hesitate to grant the NRA’s motion,” said Walker, who added the emphasis. “One need only look to the harassment suffered by some of the Parkland shooting survivors to appreciate the vitriol that has infected public discourse about the Second Amendment. And this Court has no doubt that the harassment goes both ways.”
Walker added that he thought the rules for interpreting the law setting the precedent were dated. “Today we have the internet, social media, and the 24-hour news cycle. What this means is that if a person attaches their name to a lawsuit — and especially if that lawsuit is sensational — then everyone will quickly be made aware of it,” he said. “Articles get posted online, and the responding comments, tweets, and whatever-else-have-yous often devolve into a rhetorical barrage of hate. Unfortunately, it seems the internet just doesn’t always bring out the best in us.”
The NRA sued the Florida government in March after state lawmakers fast-tracked a gun control package that included restricting gun sales for buyers under the age of 21. Victims and students of the Valentine’s Day shooting at a Parkland high school pressured lawmakers to act before the end of the legislative session.
Per the order, the NRA has until May 21 to amend its complaint without pseudonyms.