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Citizens Committee sues Eric Holder over interstate handgun sales

CCRKBA sued Attorney General Eric Holder today over the law on interstate handgun sales.
CCRKBA sued Attorney General Eric Holder today over the law on interstate handgun sales.
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Bellevue-based Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, with financial support from the Second Amendment Foundation, filed a federal lawsuit today against Attorney General Eric Holder challenging the current federal law prohibiting cross-state handgun purchases.

Also named in the lawsuit is B. Todd Jones, director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Just the other day, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel recommended on its editorial page that ATF should be dissolved, and that’s no pro-gun newspaper.

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Milwaukee was one of the cities where ATF launched a gun store sting operation that exploded into a national scandal. The newspaper investigated the blunder-plagued operation and found itself surprisingly on the same side as many gun rights activists who have long criticized the agency for alleged rogue tactics best exemplified by Operation Fast and Furious.

Joining CCRKBA as plaintiffs against Holder and Jones are Texas resident and firearms retailer Fredric Russell Mance, Jr.; Tracey Ambeau Hanson and Andrew Hanson, both of Washington, D.C. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Fort Worth division.

It’s a rare step into the legal arena for CCRKBA, acknowledged its chairman, Alan Gottlieb. He’s the veteran gun rights advocate currently spearheading the organization’s effort to pass Initiative 591, the single-page gun owner privacy measure that prevents government gun confiscation without due process. It also mandates that background checks conducted in Washington must comply with a uniform national standard.

CCRKBA is part of the statewide coalition supporting I-591 that includes hunters, rank-and-file law enforcement, competitive and recreational shooters, and gun collectors. The umbrella group is Protect Our Gun Rights (POGR).

He’s also on the offense against Initiative 594, the 18-page gun control measure ostensibly being pandered as a “universal background check” scheme. However, according to Gottlieb and other gun rights advocates, I-594 reaches far beyond federal requirements, and lays the groundwork for expansion of the state’s antiquated pistol registry. It also mandates checks for all firearms transfers, and not just sales.

“It is overreaching, if not downright silly, in today’s environment with the federal instant background check system to perpetuate a prohibition on interstate handgun purchases that has outlived its usefulness,” Gottlieb observed about the lawsuit. “If a law-abiding citizen can clear a background check and legally purchase a handgun in his own state, he would pass the same background check just across the border in another state.”

Therein lays perhaps the heart of Gottlieb’s insistence that a background check for Washington residents should be conducted on an equal footing with checks done anywhere else. It makes perfect sense. After all, if a citizen can purchase any other goods in any other state, why shouldn’t that citizen be allowed to buy a handgun – the ownership of which is protected as a constitutionally delineated civil right under the Second Amendment – in another state, provided that citizen meets all the legal requirements, which translates to passing a nationally-uniform background check?

Currently, a person can only buy a handgun from another state if the gun is shipped from one dealer to another, and the final paperwork is done in the buyer’s home state, where the background check is performed. But if John Smith can pass the check in his hometown, he should also clear such a check in another state, since he’s the same person with the same record no matter what part of the United States he’s standing in.

As a firearms retailer in Texas, Mance would sell handguns directly to consumers in other states, but under current law, he is prohibited from doing so. The Hansons are fully qualified under federal law, and laws in Texas and the District of Columbia, to purchase and possess handguns.

There is something else at work in this lawsuit, Gottlieb explained. For some reason, handgun purchases are treated differently than rifle and shotgun sales.

“Federal law allows for interstate long gun sales,” he noted, “as long as the dealer follows the law, so what’s the logic of the federal government banning interstate handgun sales? Some states allow for, or even welcome, interstate handgun sales, so what’s the federal government doing?”

Good question. Lately, it has been hard to figure out exactly what the government is doing, under the Obama administration, whether it involves curbing illegal immigration where children are now being used as pawns in a prickly political fight, or taking action to stop violence in the Middle East. It is clear what some government agencies have been doing, such as the IRS playing political games with conservative groups, or Jones’ ATF allowing more than 2,000 guns to slip into the hands of Mexican drug cartel gunmen.

If the CCRKBA lawsuit is successful, it could pave the way for much-needed reform of gun laws. It might also help consumers by encouraging more competition among firearms dealers, especially in borderline communities.

The case is Mance et al v. Holder et al, No. 4:14-cv-00539-O