For Release: Monday June 4, 2001
VPC Challenges Illegal Delay of Justice Department Rule to Prevent Abuse of Background Check System for Gun Sales
WASHINGTON, DC – In the first lawsuit challenging the Bush Administration’s unlawful rollback of final regulations issued by the Clinton Administration, the Violence Policy Center (VPC) today filed suit in federal court in the District of Columbia against Attorney General John Ashcroft. The suit alleges that Ashcroft has illegally suspended a final Justice Department regulation implementing the Brady Law’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) for firearm purchases. The regulation gives the FBI the ability to combat abuse of NICS by conducting periodic security audits of electronic records in NICS. These audits are essential to ensuring that NICS is not being defrauded in ways that allow felons, fugitives, and other prohibited persons to obtain firearms. Although the published regulation was thoroughly considered and finalized during the previous Administration, Ashcroft has twice delayed and suspended the Final Rule’s implementation without affording an opportunity for comment.
In its complaint, the VPC asserts that Ashcroft relying on the Bush Administration’s policy of summarily delaying final regulations from the previous Administration violated the Administrative Procedure Act, the principal federal law that gives all interested parties the right to participate in the regulatory process. Ashcroft stopped the Final Rule from going into effect without allowing the public its right to notice and comment. Rather, the Attorney General, who belongs to the NRA and opposes gun control, appears to be doing the NRA’s bidding by taking steps intended to reverse longstanding Justice Department policy as embodied in the NICS Final Rule. Recently, the NRA’s top lobbyist boasted that Ashcroft is conducting a “top-to-bottom” review of NICS. The VPC’s suit seeks to bring Ashcroft’s policy shifts into broad daylight with a court order requiring him to take immediate steps to implement the NICS Final Rule.
“Attorney General Ashcroft’s decision to suspend the NICS Final Rule confirms our worst fears about the fate of federal gun policy in John Ashcroft’s Justice Department,” stated Mathew Nosanchuk, VPC Litigation Director and Legislative Counsel. “Unfortunately, the Attorney General’s illegal action, combined with his letter to the NRA endorsing a view of the Second Amendment that openly conflicts with existing Justice Department policy, proves that the fox is guarding the henhouse when it comes enforcing laws to keep prohibited persons from getting guns. This delay shows that Mr. Ashcroft’s interests lie with the NRA, not with the safety of the American people,” Nosanchuk added.
The Violence Policy Center is represented by Virginia A. Seitz from the Washington, DC office of Sidley, Austin, Brown & Wood. Last month the VPC launched www.ashcroftgunwatch.org, the leading source of ongoing information on Ashcroft, his pro-gun activities and gun lobby ties, as well as his enforcement of current gun laws.