The ATF is Trying Infringe on Pro-Second Amendment Group’s Free Speech Rights

Back in 2021, pro-Second Amendment organization Gun Owners of America filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for information concerning the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)’s use of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) to snoop on Americans without a warrant. In many instances, there was no evidence of foul play, the surveillance was due to the connections of those being surveilled. The report prompted Gun Owners of America (GOA) to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for additional information.

“In April of 2021, journalist John Crump reported that leaked ATF documents revealed the agency’s involvement in a covert, warrantless surveillance program of an untold number of law-abiding firearm purchasers, through daily monitoring of all firearm transactions that are processed through the NICS system,” GOA wrote.

After playing the waiting game for a year and even being issued threats about legal action being taken against it, the ATF would finally provide documents about the program. The ATF documents would allude to reasons for redactions, but the actual documentation was lacking with regards to these redactions. GOA reached out to the ATF to obtain the redacted versions of the documents to disseminate to the public. That is when the ATF realized its error and demanded that the no compromise gun rights organization destroy all the documents it had in its possession.

The gun rights organization did not comply with these demands. The ATF ended up releasing the documents to the pro-Second Amendment organization. GOA did not obtain the documents via illegal means and believed it had every right to keep and use the documents to inform the public of the ATF’s illegal surveillance program launched against Americans. In response,  ATF filed for a protective order against GOA in an attempt to compel it to destroy the documents and supply affidavits attesting to the destruction of the files and agreeing never to bring them up again publicly.

GOA contends that the law is very clear about this matter. It asserts that since the documents were not collected through illegal means by the organization it has every right to keep them. GOA argued it is not compelled to help the ATF fix its error. GOA is willing to destroy any personal information, which includes social security numbers, but will not yield to a blanket destruction order. GOA asserts that the ATF is attempting to cover up its covert surveillance program.

“It is a sad and ironic twist that the ATF professes its desire to protect the privacy of gun owners, considering this case involves ATF’s covert surveillance program that for years has been spying on, invading the privacy of, and gathering private information about those very persons. It is more ironic still that ATF seeks to protect that information vis-à-vis Plaintiffs, nonprofit organizations whose mission is to protect and defend the rights (including the privacy) of gun owners against government infringement,” GOA’s brief noted.

GOA called on the court to bar the ATF from violating GOA’s First Amendment Rights. It took exception with the ATF’s claim that disseminating the documents was not in the public’s interest. 

That’s the ATF for you. This is not a normal government agency. It’s an unconstitutional abomination that needs to be undermined at every possible chance. The fact is that the ATF’s continued existence poses an existential threat to the right to bear arms. 

Any serious right-wing movement would work diligently to defund and eventually abolish this agency. It’s a government entity that would make the Founding Fathers roll over in their graves no doubt. 

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