Fourth Circuit Upholds Maryland’s Ban on ‘Rapid Fire Trigger’ Devices

A bump stock is attached to a semi-automatic rifle at the Gun Vault store and shooting range in South Jordan, Utah, in 2017. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

RICHMOND, Va. (CN) — The Fourth Circuit Monday upheld a Maryland law banning bump stocks and other gun attachments that speed up the firing rate of semiautomatic weapons.

A divided three-judge panel ruled in favor of Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, a Republican, in a lawsuit brought against him by gun rights advocates over the state’s ban on the private ownership of bump stocks.

Maryland’s bump stock ban, supported by Hogan, was sparked by the October 2018 attack carried out by gunman Stephen Paddock, who killed 58 people at a Las Vegas, Nevada, concert from a room in a high-rise hotel.

Gun rights advocates, including a group called Maryland Shall Issue Inc., filed the underlying lawsuit in 2018, contending Maryland’s ban violates the Fifth Amendment’s prohibition on taking private property for public use without just compensation.

Monday’s majority opinion written by U.S. Circuit Judge Stephanie Thacker — an appointee of President Barack Obama — says Maryland’s ban does not require bump stock owners to turn the equipment over to the government or a third party. According to the ruling, it just makes the certain objects “worthless” in areas where the rule is in place. That means, according to Thacker, the ban does not violate the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause. 

A nationwide ban on gun attachments similar to those Paddock used to murder dozens of concertgoers went into effect in 2019. This all-encompassing ban was issued at the direction of President Donald Trump after the mass shooting in Las Vegas.

Maryland’s law was implemented just before the national ban and provides an exception for those who, before the ban took effect, owned the contested “rapid fire trigger activators” through permits under the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives. 

Thacker, who was joined in her opinion Monday by U.S. Circuit Judge Henry Floyd — also an Obama appointee — argued that Maryland Shall Issue Inc. lacks standing in the case. 

In response to Trump’s recommendations, the ATF began to define the term “machine gun,” at a national level to include all “bump-stock-type devices that harness recoil energy to facilitate the continuous operation of a semiautomatic long gun after a single pull of the trigger.”

“Surely, the government must compensate owners for their personal property if it physically dispossesses owners,” wrote U.S. Circuit Judge Julius Richardson, who partially dissented from the majority opinion on Monday. “But Maryland instead requires owners to physically dispossess themselves — or face imprisonment.” 

Richardson, an appointee of President Donald Trump, contends that the ban does violate the Takings Clause.

“I do not doubt the sincerity of the Maryland legislature passing this ban,” Richardson wrote. “But in my view, it requires paying just compensation. By banning ‘rapid fire trigger activators’ without exception, Maryland law destroys the panoply of property rights that private owners previously enjoyed — including possession, use, and devise. This amounts to a classic taking of private property under the Fifth Amendment, so I would allow this case to proceed.”

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