The U.S. government was wrong when it said a ban on machine guns applied to bump stocks, a federal court ruled on Jan. 6.
The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) in 2018 claimed that two laws banning machine guns meant bump stocks were illegal, reversing its earlier position. The move, backed by then-President Donald Trump, came after a man carried out a mass shooting in Las Vegas, using bump stocks to fire more rapidly.
Michael Cargill, a Texas resident who had to surrender bump stocks due to the reversal, sued in 2019, arguing that the ATF and its parent agency, the U.S. Department of Justice, violated the Constitution by usurping the role of Congress in defining the machine gun ban as extending to bump stocks.
“Cargill is correct. 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 ‘machine gun’ set forth in the Gun Control Act and National Firearms Act,” the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit said in its new ruling.
Machine guns are defined as a weapon that shoots, or is designed to shoot, or “can be readily restored to shoot,” more than one shot automatically without manual reloading by “a single function of the trigger.” The term includes “the frame or receiver of any such weapon, any part designed and intended solely and exclusively, or combination of parts designed and intended, for use in converting a weapon into a machinegun, and any combination of parts from which a machinegun can be assembled if such parts are in the possession or under the control of a person,” according to the Gun Control Act of 1968, one of the laws cited by the ATF.
The ruling noted that semi-automatic weapons do not fall under the definition because one pull of the trigger corresponds to the firing of a single bullet.
Bump stocks are accessories that, when attached to a weapon, let a shooter speed up the firing mechanism of a semi-automatic weapon, enabling a quicker discharge of bullets. But it does not change the mechanics of a semi-automatic weapon, or the crucial aspect of needing to re-engage the trigger to fire an additional bullet, U.S. Circuit Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod, a George W. Bush appointee writing for the majority, wrote.