Twenty-two state attorneys general, led by AGs from Montana and West Virginia, have petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court over a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) rule they argue would immediately transform hundreds of thousands of law-abiding gun owners into criminals.
Through its rulemaking, the ATF is attempting to regulate bump-stock accessories by claiming that they transform the firearms they attach to into machine guns as defined by the National Firearms Act of 1934.
The AGs filed an amicus brief in support of Gun Owners of America, Inc., which sued U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, and are asking the court to hear the case after the full Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals was evenly split on the issue.
The ATF’s rule is a way for the federal agency to circumvent Congress and rewrite law that only Congress has the authority to do, the AGs argue.
“The Final Rule effectively transforms commonly owned firearms into banned machine guns simply because of the use of non-mechanical bump-stock accessories. This interpretation categorically expands the text of the criminal statute in a way that Congress couldn’t possibly have intended,” they argue in their brief. “And it expands criminal liability at the expense of Second Amendment rights, diminishing the latter absent a sufficient and compelling justification. When the ATF – or any agency – invades protected rights by interpreting statutes too broadly, this Court should step in.”
A bump stock, or stabilizing brace, isn’t a weapon. It’s a device that attaches to the rear of a pistol and slips around the user’s forearm. They’re often used to reduce recoil, prevent injury, and allow the user to more safely and accurately fire their gun. They don’t transform semi-automatic rifles into automatic machine guns. Tens of millions of stabilizing braces are sold nationwide.
“The significance of this case goes beyond any firearm accessory and gun rights. No federal agency should be able to create criminal code without Congressional authorization,” Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen said. “The Supreme Court must take up this important case to uphold the rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment and affirm this important check on the federal executive’s power.”
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said the ATF doesn’t “get to overrule the Constitutional rights of firearm owners across the nation.”
Morrisey also points out that the ATF has recognized that “bump firing” has been around for as long as there have been semi-automatic firearms and common items like rubber bands, belt loops, and shoestrings can all be used to the same effect as bump stocks, which the ATF is attempting to criminalize.
“Actions like the ATF’s do not just violate important principles of administrative law. They also illustrate how the government can endanger fundamental rights through creeping, incremental, and seemingly benign regulatory depredations,” the AGs argue in their brief. “If Congress had wanted to categorically expand the NFA to cover semiautomatic firearms that use a bump-stock accessory, it would – and must – have done so explicitly.”
Judges on a Sixth Circuit panel ruled against ATF last March, concluding that bump stocks don’t transform commonly used semi-automatic firearms into machine guns. However, when brought before the full Sixth Circuit Court, the judges were evenly split, resulting in the lower district court’s ruling being upheld, allowing the ATF’s rule to stand.
Attorneys general from West Virginia, Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming signed the amicus brief.
Their petition comes after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and more than 140 Republican members of Congress last June took issue with the ATF’s rule change, arguing it violates federal law, contradicts longstanding ATF policy and is unconstitutional. They also argue ATF’s rule change wrongly targets veterans and hurts law-abiding gun owners.
Paxton said in a statement that a federal agency “cannot, through the administrative ‘interpretation’ of law, criminalize conduct that will send people to prison. Federal criminal laws must be enacted democratically, with the approval of both houses of Congress and the president.”
According to a recent Congressional Research Service report, “there are between 10 and 40 million stabilizing braces and similar components already in civilian hands,” and “[a]ltering the classification of firearms equipped with stabilizing braces would likely affect millions of owners.”
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