Washington, DC –-(Ammoland.com)- The FBI is asking a judge to grant an indefinite stay to the proceedings in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) case brought by Gun Owners of America because of the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
On October 4, 2019, Gun Owners of America filed an FOIA request for information related to the FBI’s usage of its voluntary prohibited person submission form within the National Instant Check Systems (NICS).
The form allows a person to add themselves to the prohibited person’s list without meeting the requirements. GOA is worried that an anti-gun doctor or family member can coerce a gun owner to add themselves to the list. Once on the list, the person can never own a firearm again.
Earlier this year, the request became more relevant with states like Virginia passing a law that lets citizens add themselves to a state list that is then reported to the FBI and then added to NICS. GOA says it needs the information for any future legal challenge. Gun rights advocates reason that someone using the form as akin to a person designating themselves a felon and demanding that the government put them into prison.
The FBI acknowledged the receipt of the gun rights group’s FOIA request, but that is where the federal government’s response stopped. The FBI’s unwillingness to respond caused GOA to sue to get the requested information. The judge in the case gave the FBI until yesterday to provide the court with a status report.
Lawyers for the FBI requested a stay in the case for an unlimited amount of time. The FBI states that the coronavirus forced the FBI Record/Information Dissemination Section (RIDS) to shut down. In the status update, the FBI says that because of pandemic employees can not report to work. It also states that employees of the FBI’s RIDS cannot work from home to process FOIA requests.
FBI Request An Indefinite Stay In GOA FOIA Case Due To COVID-19
Other government agencies, such as the Department of Justice, are still processing FOIA requests. The FBI can’t handle the request because they house RIDS in a SECRET-level enclave. That means that unclassified documents are housed in the same system as classified documents. This design means that any materials on the network can only be viewed in a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) until the department exports the documents.
GOA didn’t take a position on the motion to stay, but GOA attorney Robert Olsen did ask the stay be for no more than 30 days. Without a time limit, it would be up to the FBI and the FBI alone to when the courts would hear the case. Theoretically, the FBI could shelve the request forever. Olsen also pointed out that other agencies are still processing FOIA requests.
GOA responded: “Plaintiff takes no position on the government’s motion. However, Plaintiff wishes to add its understanding of the FBI’s curious procedure in FOIA cases, wherein the FBI takes unclassified documents, places them into a classified system, and then claims its employees cannot access that secure system. In other words, the system that the bureau created, and not the pandemic, is directly to blame for the FBI’s alleged inability to process Plaintiff’s FOIA request. The effect is a complete shutdown of the FBI’s FOIA processing, even while other agencies (such as DOJ) continue work on similar FOIA requests. COVID-19 should not be a magic talisman for the FBI to waive in order to avoid its duties. Plaintiff would request that any stay the court might enter be for a set period of time not to exceed 30 days, rather than an open-ended invitation to the bureau to indefinitely delay the processing of Plaintiff’s FOIA request.”
The FBI response is that when RIDS reopens that the employees will need an undefined time period to “re-adjust, negotiate and harmonize deadlines in its FOIA matters.” The Attorneys do not want to respond in 30 days because it would cause them extra work in their ever-expanding case log. The FBI also highlights that their lawyers might have “technical issues” while telecommuting that might back them up to a point where it would be hard for them to respond in 30 days.
The FBI’s attorney did say they would provide an update to when the stay could be lifted two weeks after RIDS employees return to work. There is no firm return date for the FBI’s RIDS.
About John Crump
John is a NRA instructor and a constitutional activist. He is the former CEO of Veritas Firearms, LLC and is the co-host of The Patriot News Podcast which can be found at www.blogtalkradio.com/patriotnews. John has written extensively on the patriot movement including 3%'ers, Oath Keepers, and Militias. In addition to the Patriot movement, John has written about firearms, interviewed people of all walks of life, and on the Constitution. John lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and sons and is currently working on a book on leftist deplatforming methods and can be followed on Twitter at @crumpyss, on Facebook at realjohncrump, or at www.crumpy.com.