Judicial Watch is a conservative non-partisan watchdog group that files Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits to expose government corruption and violations of constitutional rights. Founded in 1994, the group has gone after the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations with dozens of lawsuits. Most of the lawsuits are dismissed, but the group’s labors have successfully forced the government to produce some documents over the years.
On April 4th of this year, Judicial Watch filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice requesting all communications related to the decision by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) “to no longer exempt 5.56 mm. SS109 and M855 (i.e., ‘green tip’ AR-15) ammunition from the definition of ‘armor-piercing’ ammunition.”
On February 13, 2015, the ATF released new proposed guidelines for the classification of certain commonly used AR-15 ammo. The proposal reclassified 5.56 mm. SS109 and M855 ammo as “armor-piercing,” putting it in a category off limits for sale to most citizens. According to Judicial Watch, the measure would have put an “effective ban” on certain popular types of ammunition.
Judicial Watch previously filed a March 9, 2015, FOIA request for information related to the proposed ammunition ban. Specifically, they sought, “All records of communications, including emails, to or from employees or officials of the ATF related to the decision to revise the ATF 2014 Regulation Guide to no longer exempt 5.56 mm. SS109 and M855 (i.e., “green tip” AR-15) ammunition from the definition of “armor-piercing” ammunition.”
Judicial Watch got no response or recognition of the request from the ATF, so they have filed this follow-up lawsuit demanding answers. The new lawsuits again seeks any and all records of communication from within or without the ATF having to do with the ban on the AR-15 ammunition. Presumably, Judicial Watch is looking for signs of instructions from the Obama administration.
“This is yet another example of how Obama’s wanton use of the ‘pen and the phone’ attempted to undermine the constitutional rights of all Americans, as opposed to upholding the rule of law,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “The Obama ATF simply ignored our request on their ammo ban. Let’s hope the Trump administration finally brings transparency to this out-of-control agency.”
The attempted reclassification of the ammunition came in the wake of years of national debate over whether the AR-15 should be legal for regular citizens to own, with anti-gun activists seeking to ban the AR-15 after its use in several high-profile mass shootings. The gun is popular among gun owners for competitive shooting, hunting, and home defense.
In March 2015, more than 200 members of Congress wrote to former ATF director Todd Jones sharing their “serious concern” that banning the ammunition would violate the Second Amendment. The letter states that the ATF’s proposal “does not comport with the letter or spirit of the law and will interfere with Second Amendment rights by disrupting the market for ammunition that law abiding Americans use for sporting and other legitimate purposes.”
After a public outcry from gun enthusiasts, the ATF backed down from its proposed reclassification of the ammo. The ATF issued avia Facebook on March 10, 2015, saying that “the vast majority of the comments received to date are critical of the framework” proposed for reclassification of certain projectiles. The ATF stated that it would “not at this time seek to issue a final framework.”
Now that Republicans oversee all three branches of government, it is unlikely that the push for reclassifying the ammunition will start again any time soon. If Democrats regain control of government, however, it could only be a matter of time until the law changes.
The ATF’s rationale for the ban was that the bullets could be loaded in a concealable pistol version of the AR-15 and used to kill police officers wearing armor. There is a lack of evidence, however, that this is really a major problem, as even the liberal outlet Bloomberg:
“The AR-15-type handguns in question are relatively expensive, heavy, and about two feet in length. You haven’t read much about them because they’re not turning up at crime scenes. Green tips, moreover, haven’t contributed discernibly to shooting waves, let alone skeins of cop killings. (I’m unaware of a single police shooting that involved the ammo in question; if you know of one, please point it out.) If bad guys want to use rifle ammunition to kill police officers, they can do so right now – and they have a vast array of rounds to choose from.”
The public proposal to ban the ammo led to the product being cleared from the. Ammo classified as “armor piercing” is illegal to sell, not to own. So even if the ATF banned the ammunition, there would still be a massive legal stockpile in the possession of gun owners.
The most interesting question here is whether President Obama had any involvement behind the scenes in the push by the ATF to reclassify the ammunition for the controversial weapon. Obama signaled that he would use the full extent of his executive powers to push his agenda. “We’re not just going to be waiting for legislation in order to make sure that we’re providing Americans the kind of help they need. I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone,” Obama said during his first Cabinet meeting of 2014. But did he overstep his powers by giving secret orders to the ATF? A full disclosure of communications as requested by Judicial Watch would answer that question.
Obama continued: ”And I can use that pen to sign executive orders and take executive actions and administrative actions that move the ball forward [on his entire political agenda] .” Obama’s own words are the origin of the “pen and phone” meme spoken of with disdain by the head of Judicial Watch.
Obama did not issue any executive orders for the ATF to reclassify the AR-15 ammo. Apparently the theory is that Obama or his representatives privately instructed the ATF to ban the ammo. This is the suspicion that the Judicial Watch is looking for evidence to support. Realistically, all Presidents use both the pen (executive orders) and the phone to get their way. But hopefully the President does not do so for illegal purposes or to bypass the will of the people.
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