Gun group drops out of federal terror watchlist suit

Homeland Security seal stands at the agency's headquarters in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Getty Images)

Homeland Security seal stands at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Getty Images)

Gun rights group Gun Owners of America dropped out of a lawsuit brought against the federal government over alleged constitutional violations, according court documents.

The group and others brought the suit in December to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York, alleging the Department of Justice illegally used the National Instant Criminal Background Check System — or NICS — in conjunction with a secret federal database containing the names of individuals linked to suspected terrorists in order to monitor gun owners.

Gun Owners of America petitioned the court on April 16 to withdraw from the lawsuit.

Our attorneys (who specialize in 2nd Amendment law) were uncomfortable with the way the case was presented and suggested that I withdraw. We are not interested in a public intramural dispute,” said Larry Pratt, executive director emeritus of Gun Owners of America, in an email to Guns.com.They were concerned that it was flawed enough not to devote our limited resources to it.

The lawsuit came after increased scrutiny over federal investigation techniques allegedly used after two Muslim shooters killed 14 people and injured 22 others at a government social services building in San Bernardino, California, in December.    

That case highlighted the fact that the shooters obtained their firearms through a straw purchase and were not flagged in either the federal background check system or the terror database — also referred to as the terrorism watchlist, though it’s actually composed of several lists, including a “no-fly” list used by the federal government to prevent people from boarding commercial aircraft in and out of the United States.

The suit also came after revelations about the secret terror database, which came to light last year when The Intercept – created by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar – obtained a March 2013 government document outlining the Obama administration’s quiet expansion of the terrorist watchlist system.        

The 166-page document was issued by the National Counterterrorism Center – the agency charged with maintaining and growing the database – and highlights the federal government’s assumed role in a post-9/11 America created during the Bush administration in 2004.

The Terrorist Screening Database – likely managed in conjunction with the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, which monitors international terrorism – the system contains the names of more than 2,000 people who have legally purchased guns over the past decade.

Though the system is extensive, with more than 700,000 names in the screening database in 2007 and likely more than a million today, only a fraction of those – 7,000 – are the names of American citizens.

Also named in the suit as plaintiffs are members of the National Rifle Association, the Second Amendment Foundation, the Shooters Committee on Political Education, the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, Oathkeepers, New York Revolution, NY2A and III%.

The complaint calls out U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, FBI Director James B. Comey, Christopher M. Piehota, director of the Terrorist Screening Center, and Thomas E. Brandon, acting director of the ATF.