On Friday, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, sitting en banc, invalidated the ATF’s Rule classifying bump stocks as machine guns under the Administrative Procedure Act.
In 2018—after determining that bump stocks were not machine guns on ten separate occasions—ATF changed its position and reclassified bump stocks as machine guns, thereby banning any bump stock produced after 1986, effectively all of them. That decision prompted several legal challenges under the Administrative Procedure Act, which directs courts to “set aside” government actions that are “not in accordance with law.” The Fifth Circuit ultimately held that a bump stock does not meet the federal definition of a machine gun, because it does not allow the firearm to discharge multiple rounds by a single action of the trigger, and ATF’s Rule was not in accordance with the law.
But the decision goes well beyond bump stocks. The court said that the Rule “purports to allow ATF—rather than Congress—to set forth the scope of criminal prohibitions.” That position was squarely rejected over 200 years ago, when Chief Justice Marshall, writing for the Supreme Court, declared “the power of punishment is vested in the legislative, not in the judicial department. It is the legislature … which is to define a crime, and ordain its punishment.” Thus, Congress, not ATF or the courts, must decide if bump stocks—or any other firearm—should be criminally outlawed, and Congress has not done that with bump stocks.
The Court's decision tracks the argument that NRA-ILA made in an amicus brief filed in this case, other amicus briefs that NRA-ILA filed before the Supreme Court and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in related cases, and comments that NRA-ILA made to ATF when it was considering the rule.
The ATF now must decide if it wants to appeal the Fifth Circuit’s decision to the United States Supreme Court, which recently signaled that it may rein in federal agency rulemaking.
The case is captioned as Cargill v. Garland.
Please stay tuned to www.nraila.org for future updates on NRA-ILA’s ongoing efforts to defend your constitutional rights.