Gun Control Advocates Sue U.S. for DOJ Communications With NRA

(Bloomberg) -- Gun control advocates on Tuesday sued the U.S. to make it release communications with the firearms lobby, including remarks on a memo by a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives official suggesting some regulations be eased.

The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and the Democracy Forward Foundation seek to compel the Justice Department and the ATF to comply with Freedom of Information Act requests the plaintiffs made earlier. Those requests, filed on July 25, seek communications between Justice Department employees and gun rights groups including the National Rifle Association.

In the complaint, filed in federal court in San Francisco, the plaintiffs refer to an internal white paper by Ronald Turk from early 2017 suggesting the ATF ease certain firearms regulations. Turk, at that time the associate deputy director of the bureau, contacted Mark Barnes, a firearms industry lobbyist, for his input on the memo. The correspondence between the two was released following a Freedom of Information Act request and a subsequent lawsuit filed by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. The ATF later said the memo “was something Ron Turk did on his own” and didn’t reflect official agency policy.

“President Trump came to office repeatedly claiming he would take on ‘the swamp’ and reduce the power of special interests over the American people, but in power he’s done the exact opposite,” Adam Skaggs, the Giffords Law Center’s chief counsel, said in an emailed statement.

The Freedom of Information Act requests also seek the calendars and telephone records of Justice Department officials including Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and prominent ATF officials, as well as those of Chad Readler, a judicial nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and government communications with the law firm Mark Barnes & Associates.

The ATF, the Justice Department, the National Rifle Association and Barnes didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit.

The Giffords Law Center filed the suit -- which seeks injunctive relief after public-records requests failed to produce the communications -- the same day it sent a letter to Republican Senator Charles Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, opposing Readler’s nomination. The organization rarely weighs in on judicial nominations, it said, noting it had opposed only two other nominees during President Donald Trump’s administration. The group’s opposition to Readler is a result of his role in the controversy over 3-D-printed firearms that unfolded over the summer.

“Following a legal strategy overseen by Chad Readler, the Trump administration abruptly -- and without explanation -- changed course and withdrew its objections to downloadable guns,” the letter stated. “Mr. Readler’s nomination for a life-tenured federal judgeship should be rejected on the basis of his irresponsible and dangerous efforts on behalf of the Trump administration to make undetectable, untraceable firearms available to anyone in the world with an internet connection and a 3-D printer.”

Readler declined to comment on the matter.

The case is Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence v. U.S. Department of Justice et al., U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).

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