Settlement reached in ATF ammo classification disclosure lawsuit

A settlement was reached this week between the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and a gun industry trade group in a case over a Freedom of Information Act request filed 15 months ago.

The case stemmed from a July 18, 2013, request from the National Shooting Sports Foundation related to the ATF’s decisions regarding how certain types of ammunition are classified and how decisions are made for exemptions. While normally FOIA requests are filled or denied within a 20-day period, the ATF did not reply which led the trade group repeatedly to check on the status of the disclosure request by phone and certified letter over the next several months, even getting the Department of Justice involved through an administrative appeal.

When the ATF still had not responded some six months later, the NSSF filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Jan. 23.

“Given the lack of response, NSSF considered its FOIA request to be constructively denied as it had not received any of its requested records from ATF, a denial of its FOIA request, or a request for an extension of time,” states the complaint filed by D.C. area attorney James Wedeking naming ATF as a defendant and seeking the records requested last July.

In March, the ATF responded to the filing saying that yes, it did receive NSSF’s request and agreed that it did not provide the records, deny the request or seek more time.

Therefore, a settlement was reached Monday in which the court dismissed the suit and the NSSF will seek to recover legal fees. However, the terms of the settlement are not known.

“The parties worked together to resolve the issues in this FOIA litigation,” Bill Miller, public information officer for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, told Wednesday.

“Beyond that, we have no comment beyond the court filings in the case.”

This is not the first time that the ATF has stonewalled on just how it makes decisions on ammunition classification and establishes exceptions to those categories. In April, three U.S. congressmen wrote to the agency seeking clear definitions on the bureau’s methodology following the ban of 7N6 type 5.45×39mm ammunition.

In the case of that ammo type it was deemed prohibited from import by the ATF as being armor piercing and therefore in violation of the Law Enforcement Officers Protection Act, which bans handgun ammo that may penetrate the ballistic vests of police officers. Although traditionally a rifle round, the ATF cited that there was in existence at least one pistol that was chambered in 5.45×39mm, which triggered the ban.

However, in 2013, industry groups and manufacturers tried to head this off by meeting with ATF to discuss possible alternatives. These meeting details were not released even after FOIA requests.

“This lack of transparency is extremely troubling especially considering the fact that attendees were told in no uncertain terms that the meetings were being recorded and the tapes would be provided,” the April congressional letter reads.

It continues, “Why weren’t the tapes provided as promised? Why were interested parties forced to file FOIA requests? Why were these FOIA requests ignored? When will the requests for the audio tapes be provided?” reached out to the NSSF for comment on case and its settlement this week, but did not receive a reply by story publication.

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