Newtown gun group challenging ATF authority to seek data on gun sales

The Newtown-Conn.-based National Shooting Sports Foundation is challenging the federal government’s authority to seek data on semi-automatic rifle sales.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case January 9.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives — ATF — had asked dealers near the Mexican border to provide information on sales of “two or more semi-automatic rifles at one time or during five consecutive business days,” according to court documents. A district court judge upheld the agency’s decision to make the demand.

The foundation, the firearms industry’s trade association, appealed the ruling, as did some gun dealers. The group has generated considerable attention in recent days because it is based in the same town where the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting took place.

Lawyers for the foundation  say ATF exceeded its authority under the Gun Control Act in making the request of 8,707 gun dealers in Arizona, New Mexico, California and Texas.

“There is no rational law enforcement connection between the problem ATF sought to address – illegal firearms trafficking from the United States to Mexico – and merely conducting a lawful retail firearms business from premises located in one of the border states,” the foundation’s brief says.

The foundation’s lawyers also note that much-criticized ATF’s “Fast and Furious” program involved the agency allowing gun sales to suspected smugglers in an attempt to trace the purchased weapons back to Mexican drug cartels.

Government lawyers say the statute’s aim is to enable the “tracing of firearms recovered during a law enforcement investigation in order to identify potential violations of federal firearms laws.”

The letters were sent after the government determined “ATF’s efforts to investigate and combat arms trafficking across and along the southwest border were hindered by the lack of data on multiple sales of the semiautomatic rifles increasingly used by Mexican drug cartels,” the government maintains.

The case is National Shooting Sports Foundation v. Jones, 12-5009.

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