The ATF’s Latest Anti-Second-Amendment Overreach (Explained)

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) is never going to be beloved by the Second Amendment community. After all, it is the agency tasked with regulating firearms, and the gun community despises nanny state gun laws. That said, the ATF doesn’t exactly help their case. In fact, it often makes blunders that accomplish little but earn it even more disdain from gun owners.

One example was the ATF’s decision, under the Trump administration, to reclassify bump stocks as machine guns.

Now, the ATF has made another move to flex its regulatory muscles and needlessly antagonize the gun community. 

The Seattle Times reports:

Federal officials are notifying gun dealers that some forced-reset triggers, which allow guns to fire rapidly with a single continuous pull of the trigger, are considered machine guns under federal law and subject to strict regulation.

The notification was being made Thursday in an open letter from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to federally licensed firearms dealers. It spells out how investigators have determined the triggers to be ‘conversion devices,’ making the weapons machine guns.

The Biden administration has been working to strengthen gun regulation, step up its fight against gun violence and tackle rising violent crime rates in the country. The Justice Department has already announced it is taking a hardline approach to gun dealers who break federal law and has established several strike forces in cities to help stop firearms trafficking.

In the new letter, the agency said its examination of the devices in question determined that they ‘allow a firearm to automatically expel more than one shot with a single, continuous pull of the trigger.’

Now, that language there at the end is interesting, because it implies that they’re well within their regulatory authority. But there’s a lot of context missing that calls this into question.

You see, the law defines a machine gun as a firearm that is capable of firing more than one round with a single pull of the trigger.

This cannot legitimately be applied to a forced reset trigger.

A forced reset trigger forces the trigger to travel forward even with pressure still applied. As a result, that “continuous pull of the trigger” results in multiple actual trigger pulls. It’s simply a device that facilitates faster pulls of the trigger because the finger doesn’t have to release pressure for the trigger to reset for the next shot.

But it’s not a machine gun as the law is written—because a forced reset trigger does not make a gun fire multiple rounds with a single pull of the trigger. 

The problem is that the ATF has a notorious habit of stretching its regulatory authority further and further, especially when the administration in the White House favors gun control.

What the ATF should have done regarding bump stocks is simply argued that they couldn’t regulate them under existing law regardless of what President Trump wanted. They didn’t.

Instead, they jumped at the opportunity to regulate a device that didn’t meet the legal definition of a machine gun. And now, they’re doing it again, knowing that President Biden will support them fully.

Of course, it remains to be seen how this will ultimately play out. There will be lawsuits and this regulation may end up before the Supreme Court. Since the current Supreme Court seems to lean heavily pro-Second Amendment, it’s possible the ATF’s latest overreach could get smacked down. Eventually.

However, that’s years away. In the meantime, Second Amendment supporters will have to deal with these illegitimate restrictions—and brace for the ATF’s next overreach.

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Tom Knighton
Tom Knighton
Tom Knighton is a Navy veteran, a former newspaperman, a novelist, and a lifetime shooter who has increasingly focused on Second Amendment issues. He lives with his family in Southwest Georgia.