April 4, 2021
|After a series of set-backs endured by bump stock owners and gun rights organizations around the country, on March 25, 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in the case of Gun Owners of America, Inc. v. Garland, held that bump stocks cannot be classified as “machineguns” as defined by the National Firearms Act, 26 U.S.C. § 5845(b). As you may recall, bump stocks were alleged to have been used during the Route 91 Harvest music festival shootings in 2017. With no action taken by Congress to outlaw this specific device, at the President’s request, the U.S. Department of Justice banned them through regulation in March 2019. This reinterpretation of the statute reversed numerous opinions from ATF’s Firearms and Ammunition Technology Division finding these products to be unregulated (i.e. not firearms or machineguns). The Sixth Circuit, reviewing a decision from the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, concluded that the ATF is not entitled to “deference” when interpreting a criminal statute, such as the NFA, and further, the Final Rule which made bump stocks illegal was “not the best interpretation” of the statute. The appellate court directed the lower court to enter a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of the ATF’s ban on bump stocks.
Unfortunately, at least for the time being, the decision only applies to the four states within the Sixth Circuit (Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee), as ATF’s bump stock ban was previously upheld by the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Tenth and District of Columbia Circuits.
Because this decision creates a “split” in the Circuits on this particular issue, and adds to a growing Circuit split on the issue of deference to be afforded to agency interpretations of statutes, this creates an opportunity for a Second Amendment friendly Supreme Court to weigh in and hopefully issue a decision that will restrict the Executive Branch from overreaching to ban products in the firearms industry. This decision is important for the firearms industry, especially with an adverse Executive Branch, because it can significantly curtail executive orders and agency regulations that seek to restrict products through “reinterpretations” of existing law. For example, should the Biden Administration attempt to reclassify pistols with stabilizing braces as short-barreled rifles through ATF rulemaking authority, this decision would be good precedent to overturn such an overreach. In finding that ATF’s reinterpretation of “single function of the trigger” was wrong, the Sixth Circuit wisely instructed that “Congress could amend the statute tomorrow to criminalize bump-stock ownership, if it so wished. . . .[b]ut as judges, we cannot amend [the law]. And neither can the ATF.”
Renzulli Law Firm, LLP will continue to monitor nationwide efforts to protect Second Amendment rights in light of the Biden Administration’s attempt to impose new federal restrictions on firearms. If you have any questions concerning the potential impact of proposed federal law or the effect of any proposed, or newly enacted, law in your state, please contact John F. Renzulli or Christopher Renzulli.