A federal court, on Aug. 9, upheld a 2019 rule made by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) banning bump stocks — firearm accessories that can be used to increase the rate of fire.
Bump stocks work by enabling a rifle to slide back and forth inside of the stock against the shooter’s shoulder, “bumping” the shooter’s trigger finger, which allows the recoil of the firearm to shoot additional rounds.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that firearms outfitted with bump stocks are machine guns, making them subject to regulation under the National Firearms Act (NFA). The lawsuit was brought by gun rights advocacy group Firearms Policy Coalition (FPC) who challenged the ATF rule.
“We are disappointed but not surprised at the result,” said Erik Jaffe, who represents the gun rights advocacy groups that had sued to challenge the federal rule. “We think the court made a number of factual and legal errors that we plan in pointing out in further appellate proceedings.”
Bump stocks entered the nationwide conversation on gun policy after they were allegedly used in a 2017 Las Vegas massacre where 58 people attending a country music festival were shot dead and more than 800 were injured.
The executive bump stock ban that goes into effect today is unconstitutional. It’s also an ugly preview of how future gun bans could be implemented. This is a sad day for America.
— Thomas Massie (@RepThomasMassie) March 26, 2019
Between 2008 and 2017 the ATF issued ten rulings where the agency concluded that devices relying on recoil energy and the shooter’s constant forward pressure — bump stocks — were in fact not machine guns. However, after the Las Vegas shooting, then-president Donald Trump pledged to ban bump stocks.
BREAKING NEWS: Two hours ago, I asked why President Trump has done nothing to ban bump fire stock since the Vegas massacre.
He just announced that bump fire stock will be made illegal within a few weeks. If correct, this is excellent news. 👍
— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) October 1, 2018
In December 2018, the Trump administration rolled out the rule banning the sale or possession of the bump stocks. Violators could face hefty fines and up to 10 years in prison.
“With limited exceptions, the Gun Control Act, as amended, makes it unlawful for any person to transfer or possess a machine-gun unless it was lawfully possessed prior to the effective date of the statute,” the regulation states. “The bump-stock-type devices covered by this final rule were not in existence prior to the effective date of the statute, and therefore will be prohibited when this rule becomes effective.”
Prior to the ruling, an estimated 520,000 Americans owned the devices. The U.S. Justice Department gave Americans 90 days to either destroy their devices or turn them into the ATF. While the largest supplier of bump stock turned in its remaining inventory to be destroyed (an estimated 60,000 devices), only 582 were handed over to the ATF from Americans who owned them.
This means that more than 519,000 bump stocks are likely still in circulation.
Multiple civil liberties organizations spoke out against the ATF rule days before the D.C. appeals court handed down its ruling.
“The U.S. Justice Department—through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)— broke from years of precedent and discovered a new power to prohibit that widely held type of firearm accessory,” the CATO Institute wrote in an amicus brief. “That power does not exist, and this Court should not defer to the government’s conclusions.”
Firearms Regulatory Accountability Coalition, Inc., along with NST Global, LLC, and B&T USA, LLC wrote:
“This unlawful regulatory action transformed more than half a million law-abiding American citizens into presumptive felons overnight. … And ATF now demands that these citizens surrender their bump stocks—lawfully obtained property that, in the aggregate, represents over $100 million in purchase value—or face potential criminal liability, including prison time. This is precisely the type of regulatory behavior that, in our constitutional system, must be rigorously reviewed by the independent judiciary to ensure that only Congress, not the Executive, has ‘ma[d]e an act a crime.’”