March 1, 2024
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shutterstock_Stan Eales

SPRINGFIELD, Virginia — A new Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) response from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) supplied to AmmoLand News by Gun Owners of America (GOA) shows more evidence of anti-gun groups weaponizing the FOIA process against the firearms industry.

Pro-gun groups like GOA and pro-freedom publications like AmmoLand News have used FOIA requests to keep government organizations like the ATF and FBI in check. By exposing these organizations’ inner workings and abuses, we have affected change and helped Congress call the ATF and FBI to the carpet for their misdeeds.

In past articles, AmmoLand News has reviewed the FOIA request of anti-gun groups to determine how these groups use FOIA requests to their advantage. Studying past FOIA requests and looking into the Brady Organization’s continuing legal education (CLE) classes, I have come to the conclusion that Brady is most likely using FOIA results to try to find ways around the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA).

The PLCAA protects American gun companies from frivolous lawsuits.

There are exceptions to the PLCAA for things like defective products, breach of contract, criminal misconduct, and other actions, such as selling a gun they knew would be used in a crime. Proximate cause is another way to get around the PLCAA. Proximate cause refers to a primary cause of an incident that sets everything into motion. Anti-gun groups have used FOIA results to void PCLAA protections.

Now a new FOIA request shows anti-gun groups are still weaponizing the FOIA process but are also targeting other organizations and the ATF for working with the industry.

Brady United, Everytown for Gun Safety, and Giffords filed FOIA requests. In addition to the anti-gun organizations filing FOIA requests, the anti-gun publication The Trace also requested information from the ATF through the FOIA process. Much like the last batch of FOIA requests, the groups target federal firearms licensees (FFLs) for ATF inspection violations. The groups first filed FOIA requests to determine what FFLs have been inspected by the ATF Industry Operations Inspectors (IOI) over the past three years. Then the groups requested information on inspection results, violations, and penalties. These include gun shops in multiple states and around cities like Uvalde, TX.

“Brady hereby requests the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (‘ATF’) produce the following records pursuant to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act (‘FOIA’) 5 U.S.C. § 552 et seq. This request pertains to all ATF compliance inspections of federal firearms licensees (‘FFLs’) in fiscal years 2018, 2019 and 2020,” the FOIA request reads.

The groups are also asking about different firearms manufacturers.

Daniel Defense is one of the companies being looked at by anti-gun groups. After an attack on a school in Uvalde, Marty Daniel of Daniel Defense was invited and testified in front of Congress. The company has been a focus of anti-gun groups since its appearance. In addition to Daniel Defense, the anti-gun groups have also requested information on the inspections of Smith & Wesson, Beretta, MEAN, and Taurus.

During the Brady CLE classes, the anti-gun organization’s lawyer discussed exploiting the knowledge gathered from inspection reports to get around the PLCAA.

The group specifically targets Smith & Wesson’s AR-15 pattern rifle, the M&P-15. The groups have been critical of the moniker M&P since the letters stand for “military” and “police.” During Mr. Daniel’s testimony in front of Congress, he was pushed on the Smith & Wesson rifle’s name even though Daniel Defense is unrelated to the company. The anti-gun groups have been critical of companies using military and police imagery in advertising.

“Brady hereby requests the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) produce the following records pursuant to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552 et seq. This request pertains to Smith & Wesson, FFL ## 6-04-013-07-2E-14143 and 6-04-013-08-2E-14144, located at 2100 Roosevelt Ave., Springfield, MA( collectively, ‘S&W’), and their M&Pl5 AR-15 style rifles,” the FOIA request reads.

The group is also trying to determine how many mass shooters used the Smith & Wesson M&P-15. It could be that Brady is looking for data to use in its legal cases. This digging could be an example of the group trying to use the proximate cause by showing that the rifle has been used in mass shootings and showing violations by the gun manufacturer.

“Any and all non-exempt records reflecting any ATF investigations other high-profile mass shootings in which the perpetrator used an S&W M&Pl5 rifle, including, but not limited to Aurora, Parkland, Poway, and San Bernadino shootings,” the FOIA request reads.

It also appears that the anti-gun groups are about to ramp up attacks on online retailers.

The groups launched FOIA requests on multiple online websites, including Bud’s Gun Shop. Like the brick and motar stores, the anti-gun groups want all inspection records plus evidence of any violations of ATF rules for FFLs. Anti-gun groups have been unsuccessfully lobbying for the banning of online sales of firearms and ammunition.

Everytown for Gun Safety seems particularly concerned about the ATF’s relationship with the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF). Everytown has been critical of the perceived closeness of the industry and the Bureau. However, most in the firearms industry would disagree with Everytown’s assumptions that the ATF is “friendly” with the gun world. The anti-gun group wants the ATF to take an even more adversarial role against the firearms industry.

The group wanted to know how many ATF employees attended the NSSF’s trade show, known as SHOT Show, in Las Vegas, NV. The group also asked for any communications about the justification for the ATF attending SHOT Show. Also, the group wanted to know what ethics reviews were done on the trip. The group also wanted to know the total cost of the ATF’s participation in the event. Everytown also wanted a copy of materials distributed by the ATF and all copies of presentation media from the trade show.

Everytown also wanted to know the names of the members of ATF’s leadership that attended the gun industry yearly gathering. Specifically, the group wanted information about the then-acting ATF head Marvin Richardson’s taped appearance at SHOT Show. That appearance ruffled the feathers of anti-gun groups. The group also wants to know about any private parties attended by ATF employees while in Las Vegas, NV, for SHOT Show. The group is looking for documents and communications showing friendly connections between the ATF and the gun industry.

“Documents that show any privately funded events, put on by companies, organizations, or individuals connected to the firearms industry, attended by ATF employees during the 2019, 2020, and 2022 SHOT Show. This includes, but is not limited to, meals, afterparties, receptions, and trips to gun ranges,” the FOIA request reads.

Everytown isn’t alone in looking at the connection between the NSSF and the ATF. Giffords also uses the FOIA process to examine the NSSF connection to the ATF; both groups are not limiting their snooping to SHOT Show. The groups also seek communications about ATF and NSSF joint projects such as “Don’t Lie for The Other Guy” and “Operation Safe Store.” The group also wants to know how much money has been paid out by a joint program between the NSSF and the ATF that offer rewards for information leading to the arrest of people who steal guns from gun stores. Most interesting, Giffords wants all communications between the ATF and anyone with an email address from the NSSF.org domain.

“Any email communication – sent to, received from or forwarded – containing an employee from the NSSF from January 1, 2020 to the present. In the interest of efficiency, we would accept an email search for the term “@nssf.org,” the FOIA request reads.

NSSF’s connection with the ATF isn’t the only industry member investigated by the anti-gun groups. The anti-gun publication “The Trace” is also digging into the ATF’s communications with the gun industry. The publication asks for all communications between the ATF and Mark Barnes & Associates. Mark Barnes & Associates is a powerhouse law firm for the firearms industry. The firm represents the most prominent names and the gun world. By looking at the communications between the ATF and the law firm, the anti-gun groups can use the information gathered to further their mission and push the ATF to stop working with the industry.

Everytown also wants all FOIA request topics, numbers, and names of the people and groups requesting the FOIAs. The group is probably doing the same digging as GOA and AmmoLand News. This data can give anti-gun groups ideas about where to look for and what information they should request. It also lets them deduce the strategy of the pro-gun side of the debate.

One last thing that Brady requested is the race and ethnicity of the responsible people listed on FFLs. We haven’t determined how this information could be used, but the anti-gun groups seem to think there is value in the data. Could it be in a losing fight leftists always play the race-card as a last resort?

FOIA Evidence Brady, Everytown, and Giffords Targeting The ATF’s Relationship With The Gun Industry


About John Crump

John is a NRA instructor and a constitutional activist. John has written about firearms, interviewed people of all walks of life, and on the Constitution. John lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and sons and can be followed on Twitter at @crumpyss, or at www.crumpy.com.

John Crump

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