The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals placed a hold on a federal ban on bump stocks on Thursday, ruling that the Trump-era regulation may be unconstitutional.
A panel of judges on the Sixth Circuit decided 2-1 that former President Donald Trump’s administration likely violated the Constitution when it banned bump stocks in February 2018. Trump issued an executive order banning “all devices that turn legal weapons into machine guns” following a mass shooting in Las Vegas.
In response to Trump’s executive order, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) reinterpreted federal law that generally bans public ownership of machine guns. A machine gun under federal law is defined as any weapon that can automatically fire more than one shot per single pull of the trigger.
The ATF reinterpreted the terms “single function of the trigger” and “automatically” to make bump stocks illegal under existing federal law, according to Bloomberg Law. A bump stock is a device that can be used with a semi-automatic rifle to mimic an automatic weapon. Such a device was used in the Las Vegas shooting in which 58 people were murdered.
Gun Owners of America and several other groups sued the federal government over the reinterpretation of the statute. The Sixth Circuit panel ruled that the ATF likely overstepped its authority by reinterpreting a criminal statute and said the lower court handling the case should have granted the petitioners’ request for a temporary injunction.
The Sixth Circuit said that the legal precedent used by the ATF to reinterpret the statute, known as Chevron deference, likely does not apply in reinterpreting criminal conduct.
“Whether ownership of a bump-stock device should be criminally punished is a question for our society. Indeed, the Las Vegas shooting sparked an intense national debate on the benefits and risks of bump-stock ownership,” the judges wrote in the majority opinion. “And because criminal laws are rooted in the community, the people determine for themselves — through their legislators — what is right or wrong. The executive enforces those determinations. It is not the role of the executive — particularly the unelected administrative state — to dictate to the public what is right and what is wrong.”
“In sum, for criminal statutes, where the primary question is what conduct should be condemned and punished, the first rationale of Chevron deference — deferring to an agency’s expertise — is unconvincing because the agency’s technical specialized knowledge does not assist in making the value-laden judgment underlying our criminal laws,” the judges wrote. “That judgment is reserved to the people through their duly elected representatives in Congress.”
Trump ordered the ban on bump stocks on Feb. 20, 2018.
“After the deadly shooting in Las Vegas, I directed the attorney general to clarify whether certain bump stock devices like the one used in Las Vegas are illegal under current law,” Trump said at the time. “That process began in December, and just a few moments ago, I signed a memorandum directing the attorney general to propose regulations to ban all devices that turn legal weapons into machine guns. I expect that these critical regulations will be finalized, [by Attorney General Jeff Sessions], very soon.”
“The key in all of these efforts, as I said in my remarks the day after the shooting, is that we cannot merely take actions that make us feel like we are making a difference, we must actually make a difference,” Trump said. “We must move past cliches and tired debates and focus on evidence-based solutions and security measures that actually work and that make it easier for women of law enforcement to protect our children and to protect our safety.”
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