Appeals Court Strikes Down Major Gun Accessory Ban from 2018

The United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday struck down a Trump administration rule banning bump stocks — firearm accessories that help shooters fire multiple rounds using the recoil of semi-automatic rifles.

The New Orleans-based court ruled 13-3 that the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) cannot interpret laws banning machine guns as covering bump stocks, according to a Reuters report.

“A plain reading of the statutory language, paired with close consideration of the mechanics of a semi-automatic firearm, reveals that a bump stock is excluded from the technical definition of ‘machinegun’ set forth in the Gun Control Act and National Firearms Act,” Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod wrote in the majority opinion.

Elrod further said the Trump administration rule did not give gun owners “fair warning that possession of a non-mechanical bump stock is a crime.”

Stephen Higginson, one of the dissenting justices, wrote, “Today, our court extends lenity, once a rule of last resort, to rewrite a vital public safety statute banning machine guns since 1934.” He added that the majority was using “lenity to legalize an instrument of mass murder.”

The Trump administration’s Department of Justice instituted the ban after the deadly 2017 Las Vegas shooting. The Justice Department announced the rule on December 18, 2018.

According to the Associated Press, the gunman in that shooting had used firearms equipped with bump stocks to kill his victims.

“We are faithfully following President Trump’s leadership by making clear that bump stocks, which turn semiautomatics into machine guns, are illegal, and we will continue to take illegal guns off of our streets,” then-Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker said when announcing the rule, according to reporting from NBC News.

The rule amended ATF regulations to classify bump-stock devices as machine guns, banning the ownership and sale of such equipment.

The rule soon came under legal challenge, with opponents framing their dispute as one related to the separation of powers.

At the crux of the issue was whether the ATF had the authority to issue final rules that prohibit those devices, CNN reported.

However, the ban was upheld multiple times by the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the Denver-based 10th Circuit and the federal circuit court in Washington, the AP reported.

The Supreme Court in October declined to hear appeals on two of the decisions by the circuit courts, according to Reuters.

Even a three-judge panel at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals had initially ruled in support of the ban, upholding a decision made by a federal judge in Texas.

However, the court later voted to reconsider the issue, with arguments being heard in September, the AP reported.

Despite the Supreme Court refusing to hear appeals on two of the decisions on the case in October, the Friday ruling suggests the case could eventually be heard in the court, Reuters reported.

“The resulting circuit split should bring this decision to the U.S. Supreme Court’s attention promptly and supply a suitable vehicle for deciding this issue once and for all,” Mark Chenoweth, the president of the New Civil Liberties Alliance, told the wire service.

The Justice Department did not respond to the outlets’ requests for comment.

This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.