August 18, 2022
The ongoing battle over whether devices that can be used to speed up fire of a firearm can be considered by the federal government to be “machine guns” has taken another downward turn.
Last week, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that bump stock are, in fact, illegal machine guns.
“The central question on appeal is whether the Bureau had the statutory authority to interpret ‘machine gun’ to include bump stocks,” Judge Robert Wilkins, a Barack Obama appointee, wrote for the court in the case Guedes v. BATFE. “Employing the traditional tools of statutory interpretation, we find that the disputed rule is consistent with the best interpretation of ‘machine gun’ under the governing statutes.”
At the behest of President Donald Trump, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) back in 2018 finalized a rule to consider bump stocks to be machine guns under federal firearms law. Since then, gun rights groups have been battling in court to get the rule overturned, with last week’s action by the D.C. Circuit the latest loss.
Machine guns are regulated under the National Firearms Act of 1934 and the Gun Control Act of 1968, and defined as any weapons that shoot “automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger.” Since bump stocks still require a pull of the trigger for each shot fired, the question before the court was whether the motion created by recoil when using the stocks should still qualify them as a “machine gun.”
“Accordingly, under the best interpretation of the statute, a bump stock is a self-regulating mechanism that allows a shooter to shoot more than one shot through a single pull of the trigger,” Judge Wilkins wrote. “As such, it is a machine gun under the National Firearms Act and Gun Control Act.”
The Firearms Policy Coalition, one of the plaintiffs in the case, had pointed out in a brief how bump stocks had been considered legal by the ATF for decades, before the sudden change.
“ATF consistently and repeatedly asserted that bump stocks are not machine guns and do not convert semi-automatic firearms into machine guns in 10 different letter rulings from 2008 to 2017,” FPC wrote. The organization concluded, “The final rule’s reinterpretation of the statutory definition of machine gun is contrary to the plain meaning and common understanding of the words in the statute itself and thus is unlawful.”
In the end, Judge Wilkins and the other two judges—Chief Judge Sri Srinivasan (also an Obama appointee) and Circuit Judge Harry Edwards (a Carter appointee)—chose to rule just as several other courts have done, including the 5th, 6th and 10th Circuit Courts.
“We join those circuits in concluding that these devices, which enable such prodigious rapid-fire capability upon a pull of the trigger, fall within the definition of ‘machine gun’ in the National Firearms Act and Gun Control Act,” Judge Wilkins wrote. “For the foregoing reasons, the District Court’s judgment is affirmed.”
The Firearms Policy Coalition continues to fight the bump stock ban in the 5th Circuit Court, where an appeal is currently pending.
About the Author
Freelance writer and editor Mark Chesnut is the owner/editorial director at Red Setter Communications LLC. An avid hunter, shooter and political observer, he has been covering Second Amendment issues and politics on a near-daily basis for more than 20 years.
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