Bump Stock Battle Joined

Dec 19, 2018

In October, President Trump says he told the NRA “bump stocks are gone” - but a lack of action on that front resulted in many writing off the comment as yet another example of his bombast.

Yesterday, the Trump administration and the president who said “we will never come after your guns” followed through on his promise, releasing a new federal regulation officially banning bump stocks.

Under the new rule, bump stock owners have 90 days to “surrender or destroy” their bump stocks. After that, they risk facing federal machine gun charges. Those offenses carry sentences of up to 10 years in federal prison and $250,000 in fines for each violation.

The Justice Department said the ATF would be posting destruction instructions on its website.

The regulation was signed yesterday morning by acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker. Whitaker says the Justice Department is “ready to defend against any challenges to the rule.”

They didn’t have to wait long. Shortly after the signing, the owner of a bump-stock filed suit contending the Trump administration’s action was illegal.

The Firearms Policy Coalition, Firearms Policy Foundation and Madison Society Foundation all joined in the lawsuit (Guedes, at al, v BATFE, et al).

The plaintiffs in this action are represented by Joshua Prince and Adam Kraut of Firearms Industry Consulting Group, a division of Civil Rights Defense Firm, P.C.

For Prince and Kraut, it’s a progression from a nearly 1,000 page opposition document they filed against the regulation during the comment period. Their opposition filing included a video exhibit that demonstrated the actual operation of a bump stock on an AR-style rifle (Editor’s Note: You can see that document at http://www.bit.ly/fpc-bumpstock-reg-opposition).

The suit also challenges whether Matthew Whitaker has legal authority to serve as “acting Attorney General” or issue rules. That contention is raised because Whitaker has neither been “nominated to the role and confirmed by the Senate or by operation of law.”

Yesterday, the Gun Owners of America (GOA) announced, it would be filing suit against the ATF and the Department of Justice seeking an injunction protecting legal gun owners from their “illegal prohibition of bump stocks.”

According to Erich Pratt, executive director of GOA, “As written, this case has important implications for gun owners since, in the coming days, an estimated half a million bump stock owners will have the difficult decision of either destroying or surrendering their valuable property -- or else risk felony prosecution.

“ATF’s claim that it can rewrite Congressional law cannot pass legal muster,” Pratt says, “Agencies are not free to rewrite laws under the guise of ‘interpretation’ of a statute, especially where the law’s meaning is clear.”

Pratt’s reasoning is that the ATF/Justice reclassification arbitrarily “redefines bump stocks as ‘machineguns’ -- and, down the road, could implicate the right to own AR-15’s and many other lawfully owned semi-automatic firearms,”

Pratt continued. “ATF’s new bump stock regulation clearly violates federal law, as bump stocks do not qualify as machineguns under the federal statute.”

There’s a fundamental problem associated with enforcing a prohibition on bump stocks. The Justice Department says there are “tens of thousands” of them, but have no idea how many are actually in circulation.

Bump stocks, after all, are not registered, serialized devices (like machine guns). They are, in fact, nothing more than injection molded plastic stocks.

Despite that fact, the official position is that “most owners will turn them in.”

If they don’t, there’s very little subtlety in the federal response: they will investigate and take legal action against those who violate the new regulation.

“The ATF has misled the public about bump-stock devices,” Prince said. “Worse, they are actively attempting to make felons out of people who relied on their legal opinions to lawfully acquire and possess devices the government unilaterally, unconstitutionally, and improperly decided to reclassify as ‘machineguns’. We are optimistic that the court will act swiftly to protect the rights and property of Americans who own these devices, and once the matter has been fully briefed and considered by the court, that the regulation will be struck down permanently.”

So now, the bump stock, largely ignored until it was used to kill 58 people attending a Las Vegas concert in October of 2017 has moved from “gadget” to a focal point in the never-ending battle between gun owners and politicians seeking to limit gun ownership.

At this point, the fight’s in the courts.

If, however, the regulation is upheld and the ATF attempts to enforce it, the battle could escalate into something other than a war of words and ideology.

We’ll keep you posted.

—Jim Shepherd

EDITOR’S NOTE: Anyone who owns a “bump-stock” device and who would like to consider participating in the case should contact the FPC/FPF Legal Action Hotline at https://www.firearmspolicy.org/hotline or (855) 252-4510 (available 24/7/365) as soon as possible.