The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled on Friday that an executive order by then-President Donald Trump to ban gun bump stocks in 2018 was not constitutional, striking down the ban that was put in place after a gunman used the gun accessory to kill 58 people and wound 850 more in Las Vegas at a concert.
The rule was made after the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) changed its definition of a non-mechanical bump stock, saying that it was a machine gun because it fired multiple rounds with one pull of the trigger. Machine guns are illegal in the U.S.
But the appeals court said in a 13-3 decision that the ATF did not have authority from Congress to change the definition, and rejected the reasoning that non-mechanical bump stocks are automatic.
They are not self-acting, the court argued, because they require some action by the gunman to fire.
“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 lead majority opinion, Fox News reported.
Gun rights advocates disagreed with the rule, which the court also said came after intense public pressure from the Las Vegas mass shooting, which was the worst in U.S. history.
Previously to the appeals court ruling, the rule had survived several lower court legal challenges, and the appeals court initially voted 3-0 to uphold it. But the full ruling saw a shift in the court’s thinking.
Because the rule’s language did not mention a shooter, but only the equipment itself, it could not stand, the court ultimately said.
Will Biden pursue Trump-era rule?
With Trump no longer in office, it will be up to the ATF to decide whether to rewrite the rule to get around the ruling, appeal the decision, or just let it go.
While the Biden administration is against most Trump-era orders just on principle, the administration defended the rule in court and may decided to appeal.
Attorney Rich Samp, who represented plaintiff Michael Cargill’s suit against the government over the law, celebrated the ruling.
“This case is not about gun control. It is instead about who has the constitutional prerogative to change the criminal law if changes are warranted,” Samp said in a statement. “The current statute, adopted in 1986, defines ‘machinegun’ in a manner that does not encompass non-mechanical bump stocks. It is unlawful for a prosecutorial entity like ATF to rewrite existing law without authorization from Congress. Any change in gun-control laws must emanate from Congress.”
Cargill sued the government after he was made to surrender several bump stocks because of the rule.
An appeal would go to the U.S. Supreme Court.