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Yuma gun seller awaits court decision
After his lawyer presented his case in a federal appeals court, the Yuma gun shop owner challenging a U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms (ATF) and Explosives directive must now wait for a decision that could take a couple of months.
Foothills Firearms owner Ben Suissa is one of two plaintiffs in a National Rifle Association-sponsored lawsuit challenging an ATF directive requiring gun shop owners in border states to report bulk sales of semiautomatic rifles.
His attorney, Richard Gardiner, argued the case Jan. 9 in Washington, D.C.
“We didn't get time to make the full argument we wanted,” Gardiner told the Yuma Sun. “At first they didn't seem to understand what the issue was.”
However, he believes he spent enough time reviewing what he considers the “most important” aspect of the lawsuit. By the time he finished, members of the judges understood the issue, he noted.
The next step depends on the decision of the three-judge appeals court panel. “We would certainly entertain the idea of taking it to a full court of appeals if they ruled unfavorably,” Gardiner said.
In 2011, the ATF sent a letter to gun stores in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas informing the owners that they must report any purchase of two or more semiautomatic rifles within a five-day period. The agency said that directive is part of an attempt to stem the flow of guns into Mexico.
Gardiner argued that the ATF does not have the authority to require gun shop owners to collect customer information.
“The demand letter does in effect make licensed gun dealers create records of information when the law doesn't require it,” he said. “The issue is whether the ATF can force dealers to do things the law doesn't require them to do. What is this country about — a government of laws or the whims of bureaucrats?”
According to the Virginia-based attorney, the ATF is overstepping its authority in view of federal law that already exists requiring gun dealers to report sales of specific weapons.
“If Congress had wanted (semiautomatic rifles) included, they would have indicated it,” he said. “If law doesn't require it, they shouldn't have to do it.”
Suissa is one of two plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
He did not return a phone message seeking comment on the appeals case. But in a 2011 interview, he told the Yuma Sun that it didn't take him long to decide to challenge the ATF directive.
“After I received the letter from the ATF, it took me approximately 30 minutes to decide to call the NRA. When I agreed to be a part of the class action lawsuit, I thought I was going to be one of 8,000 gun store owners in the lawsuit. But then they told me there were only two: me and J&G Sales in Prescott.”
Suissa said he doesn't believe that the ATF directive has any effect on the number of guns entering Mexico nor will it prevent gunrunners from buying in bulk.
“The drug cartels are multibillion-dollar industries. Why would they bother buying a couple of guns at a time and illegally (move) them across the border? They buy them from Russia, China and Germany and they arrive in big ships.
“Also, what's stopping straw-buyers from going to Nevada or Utah to purchase guns and crossing them? The law only applies to the four states.”
In addition, Suissa doesn't believe the agency has the constitutional right to create and enforce its own laws.
“We have a system of checks and balances in this country. Law enforcement agencies shouldn't be creating laws.”
He felt a “duty and responsibility” to his customers to challenge the ATF directive, he said.
Mara Knaub can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6856. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSMaraKnaub or on Twitter at @YSMaraKnaub.