A man of Middle Eastern origin twice denied firearms purchases by the federal government’s background check system is asking the Supreme Court to hear his appeal.
The case, Turaani v. Wray, court file 21-72, was docketed July 20. FBI Director Christopher Wray is one of three respondents; the others are Charles H. Kable IV, director of the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, and an individual FBI agent.
The FBI administers the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) to carry out background checks for firearm purchases. When it receives a background check request, the FBI isn’t allowed to disclose details of a buyer’s record and may reply with one of three directives: “proceed,” “denied,” or “delayed.”
Petitioner Khalid M. Turaani is a U.S. citizen of Palestinian national origin, according to the petition.
“He has no criminal convictions, history of mental illness, or otherwise disqualifying criteria that would prevent him from purchasing a firearm. He is a prominent figure in his community and abroad, and involved in several nonprofit organizations that assist the Palestinian American and Muslim communities,” the petition stated.
Turaani tried to buy a firearm in 2017, but before the transaction could be completed, an FBI official contacted the firearms seller and advised that Turaani was the subject of a federal investigation. The seller refused the purchase.
Turaani sued in federal district court, asserting that his Second Amendment rights had been violated. The court dismissed the case but noted that “Turaani is correct that the FBI agent violated … [the Privacy Act] by disclosing that Turaani was the target of an FBI investigation.” The Privacy Act prohibits unlawful disclosures by government officials to those with no need to know.
In 2018, Turaani again tried to purchase a firearm, this time from a different seller in Michigan, according to his petition to the Supreme Court.
As had happened the year before, the NICS check yielded a “delayed” response. The seller asked Turaani to follow up with him after a three-day waiting period, saying he would sell him the weapon because the “delayed” notice was something the seller had seen before.
But when Turaani got back to the seller, he was informed that [the FBI] had appeared at the seller’s business a day after the attempted purchase and said the FBI “does not like the company that [Turaani] keeps,” the petition stated.
“The agent also showed the seller a photograph of Mr. Turaani and another individual who appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent. The agent left his contact information and asked the seller to pass it along to Mr. Turaani. The agent’s communications to the firearm seller exceeded the permissible scope of disclosures under the relevant regulations,” the petition stated.
“Because of the agent’s disclosures, the seller refused to sell Mr. Turaani a firearm, stating that he was no longer comfortable doing so after the agent’s visit and statements about Mr. Turaani. The government’s improper disclosures damaged Mr. Turaani’s Second Amendment right to bear arms, his privacy interests, his reputation, and chosen employment, and caused him emotional distress.”
He sued again under the Privacy Act. The district court rejected his claims under the Privacy Act, applying the same analysis the prior court had employed for his Second Amendment claims. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit affirmed.
The two lower courts held that Turaani failed to show that his injury was traceable to FBI action, and that he had not established legal standing to sue, reasoning that any injury he suffered was not caused by the FBI, but instead by a third party, in this case, the firearm seller.
There was no coercion, the 6th Circuit held. Making an inquiry and passing along ambiguous information “is a distant cry from forcing action.”
“Turaani’s injury stems from the actions of the gun dealer, not the FBI. Take stock of what the FBI did. [The agent] visited the dealer to ‘speak with’ him about Turaani. That does not suffice. Contact does not equal coercion. [The agent] then asked to see the information Turaani provided when he tried to purchase the gun. That is not enough. Else, every law-enforcement inquiry could generate a lawsuit premised on an inquiry. [The agent] then showed the dealer a photograph of Turaani with an unknown man of apparent Middle Eastern descent, adding that he had concerns ‘with the company’ Turaani ‘keeps.’
“That is not enough either. Passing along information, and ambiguous information at that, is a distant cry from forcing action. An indirect theory of traceability requires that the government cajole, coerce, command. Venturing vague concerns does none of the above.”
As Mitchell Jagodinski writes at SCOTUSblog, it’s Turaani’s position that the court rulings give the government what amounts to a “free pass” to circulate confidential information to third parties without suffering any legal consequences, despite the rules Congress established in the Privacy Act.
The petitioner is asking “the court’s review to enforce the Privacy Act’s protection against improper disclosures and declare that a foreseeable action of third parties in response to an improper government disclosure is enough to establish traceability for standing purposes.”
The Epoch Times reached out to Acting Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar for comment over the weekend but didn’t receive a reply as of press time.