A short time ago, the ATF announced that gun dealers in the state of Alabama could no longer accept concealed carry permits instead of conducting NICS background checks. The reason was that it seemed some sheriffs in the state had taken it upon themselves to issue permits without conducting any background checks at all.

Now, the agency is now being sued for that act.

From a press release from the Gun Owners of America:

GOA, GOF Sue ATF After Alabama NICS Exemption Reversal

Springfield, VA – Gun Owners of America (GOA) and Gun Owners Foundation (GOF) are suing the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) for its reversal of a letter which had previously recognized that holders of Alabama concealed carry permits (CCP) are exempt from a National Instant Check System (NICS) background check when purchasing a firearm.

While Federal law allows Alabama CCP holders to avoid the NICS check, the ATF released a “Public Safety Advisory” which instructs Alabama federal firearm license (FFLs) holders to “no longer accept CCP permits as an alternative to a NICS check​.”  ATF claims that, because certain ATF sheriffs have allowed a few ineligible people to obtain CCPs, the exemption for the entire state is now revoked.

The GOA/GOF suit explains the legal problems with the ATF’s position:  “Federal law – not ATF — explicitly exempts those with Alabama concealed carry permits from the NICS requirement.  Alabama law clearly qualifies for the federal exemption, and the existence of one or two bad apples does not give ATF a blank check to start revoking states’ CCP exemptions.”

Erich Pratt, Senior Vice President of GOA and GOF, stated, “This is an example of the dangers of requiring government preclearance to exercise God-given rights. When the ability to purchase a firearm is left up to the whims of unelected bureaucrats, our rights are no longer rights — but mere privileges.”

To be fair, GOA has a point. The law says what it says and the ATF doesn’t necessarily get to decide it really says something else.

If the sheriffs in question were breaking the law in issuing those permits, then the rest of the state shouldn’t really be punished for those actions. The law says what it says.

The question is, will the judge see it that way or will the judge agree with the ATF’s position that because sheriffs weren’t following the law, all Alabama permits are suspect?

A compromise might be for gun stores not to accept permits from specific counties where this kind of thing happened, though I don’t know that such a compromise is really even possible.

Frankly, it shouldn’t matter. It’s not like the background check system actually keeps guns out of the hands of bad guys anyway, regardless of who issues permits where. As such, people should be able to buy their guns without having to go through that whole rigamarole. Unfortunately, what should be the norm and what is the norm aren’t exactly similar.

This should be an interesting case to watch going forward. My initial reaction was that the GOA and GOF were tilting at windmills, but now I’m inclined to think they have a very good chance at overturning the ATF’s ruling. That’s what makes this so interesting.