In a law suit supported by Freedom Fighters Foundation, a complaint for declarative and injunctive relief was filed Friday in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Plaintiff Ryan S. Watson, acting individually and as trustee of the Watson Family Gun Trust, is suing Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Director B. Todd Jones in their official capacities for administering, executing and enforcing “statutory and regulatory provisions [that] generally act as an unlawful de facto ban on the transfer or possession of a machine gun manufactured after May 19, 1986.”
Attorney David R. Scott is joined in the lawsuit by Stephen D. Stamboulieh, the Mississippi attorney who filed a similar action in Texas on October 30 in the case of Hollis v. Holder. This latest action differs from the first in that Watson is subject to an actual taking resulting from actions performed under authorization of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, for which approval was later revoked.
Following an ATF Firearms Industry Programs Branch determination that “unincorporated trusts do not fall within the definition of ‘person,’” Watson, acting as an authorized official of the Watson Family Gun Trust, electronically submitted an ATF Form 1, “Application to Make and Register a Firearm” in May. In August, he received ATF approval along with its stamp evidencing payment of the tax affixed to the form, and based on that authorization, he manufactured a machine gun.
Watson had also submitted an earlier Form 1 in April in paper form, and while that one was later returned disapproved, the signature box, date box and approval box had been “whited out” by ATF. In both cases ATF processed and retained the $200 “tax.”
As for the approved machine gun, ATF reneged after the fact and advised Watson it had erroneously approved his application, despite, per Stamboulieh, the agency having no statutory authority to revoke an approval. ATF’s Philadelphia Field Division ordered Watson to surrender the manufactured machine gun, reminding him that “possession of this unregistered machine gun is a Federal felony.”
The complaint asks for judgment along several grounds, including that existing statutes barring private ownership of machine guns exceed the authority of Congress and violate the Second Amendment. It additionally seeks declarations that such statutes cannot be applied individually or against trustees, that the defendants are enjoined from enforcement and that they have no authority to revoke tax stamps. Alternatively, the complaint asks that “unincorporated trusts are not prohibited from manufacturing or possessing machine guns.” It also seeks to recover costs of the suit and attorney fees, as well as “any other further relief as the Court deems just and appropriate.”