Bump stocks cannot be considered as machine guns according to a new ruling by the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Thus, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) cannot ban them.
Following the 2018 Las Vegas shootings, former President Donald Trump directed the Department of Justice to ban the devices, attracting intense protests by the gun community.
Following a directive by the then Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, the ATF classified bump stocks as “machineguns” under the Gun Control Act and the National Firearms Act.
The ATF justified its classification, on grounds that bump stocks “allow a shooter of a semiautomatic firearm to initiate a continuous firing cycle with a single pull of the trigger.” Gun rights activists pointed out that ATF’s explanation was a misinterpretation of bump stocks' functionality.
Device owners had to destroy them or surrender their property to the ATF. About 500, 000 devices became illegal on March 26, 2019, when the law went into effect.
However, three gun rights groups, two bump stock owners, and a potential buyer challenged the ATF’s final rule by filing a motion for a preliminary injunction to stop it from taking effect.
The District Court for the Western District of Michigan at Grand Rapids ruled against them arguing that the “machine gun” classification of the bump stocks was "a permissible interpretation" of § 5845(b) because ATF’s interpretation was entitled to Chevron deference.
“The district court erred by finding that the ATF’s Final Rule, which interpreted the meaning of a machine gun as defined in 26 U.S.C. § 5845(b), was entitled to Chevron deference,” the appellate court reversed the previous ruling.
“And because we find that “single function of the trigger” refers to the mechanical process of the trigger, we further hold that a bump stock cannot be classified as a machinegun because a bump stock does not enable a semiautomatic firearm to fire more than one shot each time the trigger is pulled.”
Before Acting AG Whitaker’s directive, the ATF had ruled in 2010 that bump stocks could not qualify as machineguns. It seems that the agency could customize its findings to fit the prevailing political climate.
In the previous years, the Supreme Court avoided taking bump stocks challenges among other Second Amendment issues. While the ruling is short of national legalization, it affects four states within the Jurisdiction of the Sixth Court of Appeals.
In November 2020, Houston, Texas U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick withdrew bump stocks-possession charges because the prosecution could not prove beyond reasonable doubt that bump stocks converted a semiautomatic firearm into a machinegun.
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