From attorney Jonathan Turley comes this article on the Fifth Circuit Federal Appeals court rejecting the ATF ban on bump stocks.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has handed down a major opinion in Cargill v. Garland, No. 20-51016, ruling 13-3 that the ATF ban on bump stocks is unlawful. The en banc decision found that a bump stock may be many things but it is not a machine gun.
On December 18, 2018, the ATF issued a rule that bump stock would now be considered unlawful as machine guns and gave bump stock owners 90 days to surrender the devices. After that deadline, possession would be treated as a federal crime. The specific statement read, in part:
The Department of Justice is amending the regulations of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) to clarify that bump-stock-type devices — meaning “bump fire” stocks, slide-fire devices, and devices with certain similar characteristics — are “machineguns” as defined by the National Firearms Act of 1934 and the Gun Control Act of 1968 because such devices allow a shooter of a semiautomatic firearm to initiate a continuous firing cycle with a single pull of the trigger.
On January 6, 2023, the Fifth Circuit handed down its decision rejecting the rule. It explained the technical aspects for the case as well as the clear shift in interpretation by the ATF:
“A bump stock is a firearm attachment that allows a shooter to harness the natural recoil of a semi-automatic weapon to quickly re-engage the trigger after firing, enabling him to shoot at an increased rate of speed. When ATF first considered the type of bump stocks at issue here, it understood that they were not machineguns. ATF maintained this position for over a decade, issuing many interpretation letters to that effect to members of the public.”
Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod wrote in her majority opinion that “[p]ublic pressure to ban bump stocks was tremendous” after the mass shooting in Las Vegas on October 1, 2017. However, “[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.”
The majority further explained:
The Government’s regulation violates these principles. As an initial matter, it purports to allow ATF—rather than Congress—to set forth the scope of criminal prohibitions. Indeed, the Government would outlaw bump stocks by administrative fiat even though the very same agency routinely interpreted the ban on machineguns as not applying to the type of bump stocks at issue here. Nor can we say that the statutory definition unambiguously supports the Government’s interpretation. As noted above, we conclude that it unambiguously does not. But even if we are wrong, the statute is at least ambiguous in this regard. And if the statute is ambiguous, Congress must cure that ambiguity, not the federal courts.
The holding was supported by a rule of lenity that “penal laws are to be construed strictly.” She noted that, as in United States v. Wiltberger, the Court had long followed the rule which Chief Justice Marshall described as “founded on the tenderness of the law for the rights of individuals; and on the plain principle that the power of punishment is vested in the legislative, not in the judicial department. It is the legislature, not the Court, which is to define a crime, and ordain its punishment.”
Thirteen judges agreed with the conclusion though twelve (Chief Judge Richman and Judges Jones, Smith, Stewart, Elrod, Southwick, Haynes, Willett, Ho, Duncan, Engelhardt, and Wilson) reversed on lenity grounds while eight members (Judges Jones, Smith, Elrod, Willett, Duncan, Engelhardt, Oldham, and Wilson) reversed on the ground that federal law unambiguously fails to cover non-mechanical bump stocks…(article continues)