Documents Confirm Gun Lobby Helped Author ATF White Paper
Washington, D.C., February 13, 2018 - Today, the Brady Center announced that through litigation it has obtained internal documents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF) that confirm that an ATF white paper authored on President Trump's first day in office was heavily influenced - and partially written - by the gun lobby. Ronald Turk, the second-highest ranking official of the ATF, authored the report and laid out recommendations to remove or reduce federal regulations on assault weapons, silencers and gun dealers. The paper's recommendations closely mirrored long-held priorities of the gun lobby, including the National Rifle Association (NRA), which was a major contributor to President Trump's campaign and is currently being investigated by the FBI over concerns that the NRA may have funneled Russian money to the Trump campaign. Leaked by the Washington Post in February 2017, the white paper caused widespread controversy over whether the ATF and its officials were prioritizing the interests of the gun lobby over the safety of the American public.
In March 2017, the Brady Center filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for documents relating to the white paper, but the ATF failed to respond for over six months. Brady continued to pressure the agency and ultimately went to court to force the Trump administration and the ATF to comply with their FOIA obligations, filing suit in D.C. federal court on October 16, 2017. The ATF finally released relevant documents to the Brady Center only after the court ordered it.
Undue Gun Lobby Influence
These previously secret documents reveal not only that the gun industry heavily influenced the content of the Turk white paper, but also that its members - including a prominent attorney for gun manufacturers - helped draft the paper itself. Indeed, Turk admits in the documents that he shared the white paper with gun lobby heavyweights the National Sports Shooting Foundation and the NRA. Tellingly, however, the documents show no attempt to seek input on the white paper's proposals from gun violence prevention groups or other experts on public safety, despite public statements by Turk that he regularly seeks input from both gun industry and gun violence prevention groups.
ATF's "Fight Club": A Culture of Stalling and Secrecy
Moreover, the documents undermine ATF's stated position that the white paper merely represented the individual views of Turk rather than the agency's. According to the obtained documents, numerous high-level ATF officials were aware of and contributed to the paper; the acting director of the agency even commended Turk's work on it. Following the white paper becoming public, the agency adopted a policy of secrecy regarding the memo and its significance. "First rule about Fight Club is not to talk about Fight Club," one ATF deputy assistant director said in an email to another in response for comment about the white paper.
"We knew the gun lobby would have powerful influence in this administration, but we didn't imagine it would include actually drafting portions of an ATF memo about reducing regulation on the industry. And when the date on the memo is President Trump's Inauguration Day, that raises even more questions," said Avery Gardiner, Co-President of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
"The ATF should be spending its time inspecting and taking action against gun dealers who supply crime guns that endanger our communities, and ensuring our background check system works to its full potential -- not catering to the gun lobby's wish list of deregulation," said co-President of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Kris Brown.
"These documents show exactly what we feared about the outsized influence of the gun lobby in this administration," said Brady lawyer Mariel Goetz, who has been leading the litigation together with Brady's Jonathan Lowy and a team from international law firm Covington & Burling, LLP. "The ATF has a crucial role in monitoring the gun industry and doing what it can to keep us safe from gun violence. The American public deserves to know what its government is doing to protect them, and what role outside groups have in influencing policies developed by agencies like the ATF. We shouldn't have to file a lawsuit to get transparency into what's happening at the ATF."
Brady has one powerful mission — to unite all Americans against gun violence. We work across Congress, the courts, and our communities with over 90 grassroots chapters, bringing together young and old, red and blue, and every shade of color to find common ground in common sense. In the spirit of our namesakes Jim and Sarah Brady, we have fought for over 45 years to take action, not sides, and we will not stop until this epidemic ends. It’s in our hands.