WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 26, 2019) -- Today, Firearms Policy Coalition announced the filing of another important legal brief in GOA v. Barr, a case challenging the federal bump-stock ban in the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. The Cato Institute and FPC brief is available at www.firearmspolicy.org/legal and https://www.cato.org/publications/legal-briefs/gun-owners-america-v-barr.
“As anyone who’s seen School House Rock can tell you, only Congress can write new laws,” the brief’s authors, Ilya Shapiro, Josh Blackman, and Matthew Larosiere explained. “Never to let something like a written constitution get in their way, the [Trump] administration tried to make new law by ‘reinterpreting’ an existing law: the National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA)...”
“For decades,” they said, “Congress, the executive branch, and the people shared a common understanding: the definition of ‘machinegun’ in the NFA was clear, applying only to weapons that fired continuously from a single function. . . . Bump stocks, which require substantial and continuous user input to fire, had never been considered ‘machineguns.’ President Trump announced that his administration was changing course. The president expressly declined to go through Congress, instead directing officials to redefine bump-stock devices as ‘machineguns.’ In turn, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) broke from decades of precedent and granted itself a new power to ban a widely owned firearm accessory.”
Cato and FPC argue that President Trump’s executive order banning bump stocks was arbitrary, capricious, and unconstitutional. As our filing explains in detail, the Trump Administration disregarded the statutory definition of ‘machinegun’, a term used in both the National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA) and Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA), in order to comply with a presidential mandate to re-classify legal “bump-stock-type devices” as automatic weapons. Further, we point out that the ATF’s interpretive reversal on what is and is not an automatic weapon was based on political expediency, rather than statutory ambiguity.
This case extends far beyond just bump stocks, and has the potential to affect the executive’s ability to go around Congress, not just in the Second Amendment context, but beyond.
“Despite having countless opportunities to do so in multiple cases, the government has failed to provide a competent defense of their rule making,” Larosiere explained. “The idea of an unelected bureaucrat deciding what can and cannot land you in federal prison ought to give anyone pause, regardless of how you feel about bump stocks. We hope the Sixth Circuit calls the government on its casual disregard for the Constitution and reigns in this alarming expansion of the administrative state.”
“The ATF had no authority to arbitrarily re-interpret the machinegun statute to achieve the President’s desired policy outcome,” FPC President Brandon Combs said previously about the rulemaking. “Worse, the government’s position that it is ‘ending its exercise of discretion’ means that they believe they can not only reclassify guns and accessories, but they can put people in prison whenever they do so. That is as egregiously wrong as it is dangerous. FPC has been and remains staunchly committed to fighting the unconstitutional expansion of gun control laws by fiat.”
Cato participated in the rulemaking process, filing a comment at the NPRM stage, and has filed in related cases at the D.C. Circuit and now in the 10th and 6th Circuits. FPC participated in all phases of the bump-stock regulatory process, including at the ANPRM phase, submitting a regulatory comment in opposition, and at the NPRM phase. FPC commissioned significant specialized research and filed a comment in opposition with 35 exhibits, including a video of a bump-stock device that was cited by the D.C. Circuit. FPC was a party to the first lawsuit, Guedes, et al. v. BATFE, et al., and is the sole plaintiff in the related case Firearms Policy Coalition, Inc. v. Barr, et al. More information on those cases can be found at www.bumpstockcase.com and www.whitakercase.com.
Firearms Policy Coalition (www.firearmspolicy.org) is a 501(c)4 grassroots nonprofit organization. FPC’s mission is to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, especially the fundamental, individual Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
The Cato Institute (www.cato.org) is a public policy research organization dedicated to the principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets, and peace. Its scholars and analysts conduct independent, nonpartisan research on a wide range of policy issues.