Brady Campaign Sues; 'New Gun Part Is Same As New Gun'

Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:04pm EDT
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( - Gun control advocates say the manufacture of a key gun part is the same thing as making "thousands of new illegal assault weapons."

They say fixing older, "grandfathered" semiautomatic weapons violates federal law, and they've filed a federal lawsuit demanding that the practice stop.

The Brady Campaign -- officially known as The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence united with the Million Mom March -- announced Thursday that it is suing Attorney General Ashcroft and the Justice Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, based in part on documents obtained from ATF through the Freedom of Information Act.

According to a Brady Campaign press release, documents obtained through FOIA include private correspondence between ATF and Bushmaster Firearms of Windham, Maine, in which the ATF repeatedly gave Bushmaster permission to manufacture new "receivers" to replace damaged receivers for semiautomatic guns that were legally owned before 1994, when the "assault weapons" ban went into effect.

"The 'receiver' is the housing for the firing mechanism of the gun and has a special legal status," the Brady Campaign said in a press release. (Generally, all gun parts attach to the receiver, which bears the serial number. Without a receiver, there is no gun, according to longstanding federal law.)

"Under the [Assault Weapons] Act, the 'receiver' of an assault weapon is considered the gun itself," the Brady Campaign said. "Therefore, by allowing gun makers to manufacture new receivers, ATF has been allowing the manufacture of new assault weapons, in contravention of the statute," the Brady Campaign claimed.

The Brady Campaign says by its count, Bushmaster has manufactured at least 96 new receivers since 1997. And the gun control group speculates that other gun makers have done the same thing. "It is likely, therefore, that ATF has allowed thousands of illegal assault weapons to be manufactured," the Brady Campaign said.

According to the Brady Campaign, when Congress 'grandfathered' legally possessed semiautomatic rifles - those legally owned as of 1994 -- "it expected that over time the number of grandfathered assault weapons in circulation would gradually decline, as the guns became nonfunctional due to wear and tear."

But allowing gun makers to issue new receivers "ensures, instead, that thousands of grandfathered assault weapons will remain functional into the foreseeable future," said Michael Barnes, president of the Brady Campaign.

"There is no question that if the Justice Department were obeying the law, there would be fewer assault weapons available for criminal use," said Dennis Henigan, legal director of the Brady Campaign

In its lawsuit, the Brady Campaign seeks a court order prohibiting the government from continuing to allow the manufacture of new receivers for semiautomatic assault weapons.

Re-read the law, NRA Says

"I would suggest the Brady Campaign go back and read the law," said Chris Cox, the chief lobbyist for the National Rifle Association. "The law does not prohibit the manufacturing of receivers or replacement of receivers in a grandfathered firearm."

Cox, quoted in USA Today, called the suit a "desperate attempt" by gun-control advocates to resurrect the debate over the soon-to-expire assault-weapons ban.

See Earlier Stories:
Heartened by Senate Vote, Anti-Gun Groups Demand 'Stronger' Ban (4 Mar. 2004)
Million Moms Planning Another Anti-Gun Rally (16 Feb. 2004)

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