On Friday, a federal appeals court struck down a controversial gun control initiative implemented by President Biden. Just kidding—it actually struck down a gun control measure that, surprisingly enough, was put in place by former President Trump’s administration.
At issue was the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’s 2017 rule banning “bump stocks,” an accessory which helps increase the firing rate of a semi-automatic firearm. After a horrific Las Vegas mass shooting wherein the shooter made use of a bump stock, the Trump administration attempted to unilaterally prohibit these devices without passing a new law through Congress. The Trump-era ATF did so by using existing federal laws that prohibit “machine guns” or fully automatic firearms, and reinterpreting its long-held definition of a machine gun to now include bump stocks, which again aren’t guns at all, but rather accessories on semi-automatic weapons.
Because of this dubious logic, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals just struck down the rule as an unconstitutional overreach by the executive branch.
Writing for the majority, Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod pointed out that the ATF itself maintained for more than a decade that bump stocks were not machine guns before reversing itself. “The Government would outlaw bump stocks by administrative fiat even though the very same agency routinely interpreted the ban on machine guns as not applying to the type of bump stocks at issue here,” she lamented.
“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 ‘machine gun’ set forth in the Gun Control Act and National Firearms Act,” the judges concluded.
This a win for not just gun rights activists, but common-sense and the rule of law.
The idea of banning bump stocks was always silly to begin with. The idea that it would make us safer in any way was always undercut by the reality that the same effect can be achieved using a rubber band. But more crucially, the Trump administration’s attempt to unilaterally re-write our laws via executive fiat was always a dangerous and unconstitutional precedent.
“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,” said Richard Samp, one of the attorneys who sued the government. “The current statute, adopted in 1986, defines ‘machine gun’ 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.”
Demanding that democratically-elected representatives make our laws, not unelected, rogue bureaucrats, is the absolute bare minimum. It’s the very least we should ask for when it comes to regulating our right to self-defense—or regulating anything, for that matter.
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