OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.
Former President Donald Trump was generally considered to be a big supporter of the Second Amendment, but he did agree to a rule which banned what gun control advocates say amounted to a major threat to public safety. However, that law has now been struck down by a federal appeals court.
In a stunning 13-3 ruling, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans held that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), which was then acting under “tremendous” public pressure, sidestepped the normal legislative process when it issued a rule that defined bump stocks as “machineguns,” which are illegal to possess without a special permit from the agency. The ruling said that the ATF did not possess the authority from Congress to issue such a rule.
Fox News noted further:
The bump stock ban, opposed by gun rights activists, was enacted by the Trump administration after the 2017 massacre in Las Vegas, where a gunman slaughtered 58 people at a music festival. The shooter used rifles equipped with bump stocks, allowing him to fire more than 1,000 rounds in 11 minutes at a crowd of 22,000 people.
In 2018, … Trump signed an executive order instructing the attorney general to regulate bump stocks, and ATF acted in accordance with the president’s order. To do so, the agency reversed its decade-old position that bump stocks were not machineguns.
“The term ‘machine gun’ includes bump-stock devices, i.e., devices that allow a semi-automatic firearm to shoot more than one shot with a single pull of the trigger by harnessing the recoil energy of the semi-automatic firearm to which it is affixed so that the trigger resets and continues firing without additional physical manipulation of the trigger by the shooter,” said a Justice Department statement at the time, per Newsmax.
ATF added that bump stocks “allow a semiautomatic firearm to shoot more than one shot with a single pull of the trigger by harnessing the recoil energy of the semiautomatic firearm to which it is affixed so that the trigger resets and continues firing without additional physical manipulation of the trigger by the shooter.”
The agency justified the definition noting that rifles equipped with “such devices allow a shooter to initiate a continuous firing cycle with a single pull of the trigger.”
Michael Cargill filed suit against the federal government after he was forced to give up several of the bump stocks under the new ATF and DOJ definition. He argued that guns equipped with bump stocks still normally operate with several pulls of the trigger, not one, and that federal law defines a machine gun as operating with a “single function of the trigger.”
“A plain reading of the statutory language, paired with close consideration of the mechanics of a semi-automatic firearm, reveals that a bump stock is excluded from the technical definition of “machinegun” set forth in the Gun Control Act and National Firearms Act,” Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod wrote in the lead majority opinion.
Justice Department attorney Mark Stein disagreed, telling the judges, “You only have to do one thing. Your trigger finger isn’t doing anything other than sitting still.”
Lower federal courts in Ohio, Texas, Washington, and Colorado had upheld the rule, meaning that the case is now likely to head to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Rich Samp, an attorney who represented Cargill, praised the appeals court ruling.
“This case is not about gun control. It is instead about who has the constitutional prerogative to change the criminal law if changes are warranted,” he said in a statement. “The current statute, adopted in 1986, defines ‘machinegun’ in a manner that does not encompass non-mechanical bump stocks. It is unlawful for a prosecutorial entity like ATF to rewrite existing law without authorization from Congress. Any change in gun-control laws must emanate from Congress.”
Arguments in the case were heard in September.
At the time of the rule implementation, acting Attorney General Matthew Whittaker stated: “President Donald Trump is a law and order president, who has signed into law millions of dollars in funding for law enforcement officers in our schools, and under his strong leadership, the Department of Justice has prosecuted more gun criminals than ever before as we target violent criminals. We are faithfully following President Trump’s leadership by making clear that bump stocks, which turn semiautomatics into machine guns, are illegal, and we will continue to take illegal guns off of our streets.”