A federal class-action lawsuit filed this week accuses the Justice Department of treating “every potential gun owner like a terrorist” by requiring the cross-checking of names of firearm purchasers with those on secret watch lists.
Paloma Capanna, an attorney, filed a complaint this week against the Justice Department’s top brass in Rochester, New York, to raise objections to the federal government’s use of rosters containing the names of suspected terrorists when reviewing proposed firearm purchases. Ms. Capanna is a policy analyst with the Shooters Committee on Political Education, a New York-based gun rights group.
The plaintiffs — currently more than two dozen individuals led by Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America — specifically take aim at the government’s decision to cross-check likely gun buyers with the Terrorist Screening Database maintained by the Terrorist Screening Center, a division of the FBI.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has conducted more than 222 million searches of likely gun buyers through the National Instant Criminal Background Check system between Nov. 30, 1998, and Nov. 30, 2015, the lawsuit alleges.
But beginning in February 2004, the government also started cross-checking those same persons with the Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) database of suspected terrorists — a maneuver that the plaintiffs accuse of having been done for more than a decade now without any legal authority.
“The federal government has enacted nine specific categories of persons, who, through their actions and omissions and after a rigorous legal course, can be deemed to have forfeited their privileges under the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution. Being a named person on a ‘terrorist watch list’ is not a federal statutory disqualifying factor, nor should it be,” Ms. Capanna said in the complaint.
“Permanent deprivation of a fundamental civil right cannot and should not occur because something as small as an alleged, anonymous tip places an individual in a secret database managed by the attorney general, the FBI, and/or the TSC to which the individual has no right of access and no method of recourse,” she added.
The lawsuit also calls into question the effectiveness of the government’s own alleged counterterrorism measures, noting that the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and Rep. John Lewis have landed on federal “no-fly” lists alongside the likes of conservative journalist Stephen F. Hayes.
Additionally, Ms. Capanna alleges that the government’s cross-checking of potential gun buyers has proven to be ineffective by citing the armed rampage that took place this month in San Bernardino, California. Neither the two terrorists nor Enrique Marquez, an acquaintance who had purchased one of their guns, had appeared on any federal watch list, despite the ambush being declared an act of terrorism, the attorney wrote.
The plaintiffs have asked a federal judge in the Western District of New York to impose an injunction barring federal authorities from using the National Instant Criminal Background Check system in tandem with the database of suspected terrorists. They charge that such usage violates constitutional rights to bear arms, to be free improper searches and seizures, and to due process.
As of Wednesday, the Justice Department had not answered any requests for comment with regards to the suit made by Courthouse News, which first reported about the lawsuit.