DC Circuit Refuses to Halt Ban on Bump Stocks

WASHINGTON (CN) – The D.C. Circuit on Monday upheld the Trump administration’s ban on rapid-fire gun attachments known as bump stocks, which were used to carry out the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history in Las Vegas nearly two years ago.

A bump stock is attached to a semiautomatic rifle at the Gun Vault store and shooting range on Oct. 4, 2017, in South Jordan, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Two gun owners and several gun rights groups had sought a temporary block on the ban but a three-judge appeals panel agreed that the district court correctly determined that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives reasonably redefined bump stocks as machine guns.

“We determine that the statutory definition of ‘machinegun’ is ambiguous and the bureau’s interpretation is reasonable,” the 59-page majority opinion states.

The court said it would extend a temporary exception to the ban for the plaintiffs by two days to allow them to seek a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court.

Joshua Prince – a Civil Rights Defense Firm attorney for plaintiffs Damien Guedes, Shane Roden, the Firearms Policy Foundation, the Madison Society Foundation Inc. and Florida Carry Inc. – said his clients intend to do just that.

“We are in the process of reviewing the decision and will be seeking a stay from the Supreme Court, within the time contemplated by the D.C. Circuit,” Prince said in an email Monday.

The split panel, which ruled 2-1, reached its conclusion by applying Chevron deference, which requires federal courts to defer to agency interpretations of ambiguous laws Congress left to federal agencies to administer. The name comes from a landmark Supreme Court case, Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council Inc.

The plaintiffs challenging the bump-stock ban did so under the National Firearms Act of 1934, which defined machine guns as devices that fire more than one shot automatically, without reloading, and with a single trigger pull.

While the Justice Department had previously opted to closely regulate rather than ban bump stocks, the agency shifted course last December after a year of rulemaking and determined the devices effectively transform semiautomatic rifles into machines guns, and therefore constitute illegal machine guns.

“Here, the bump-stock rule sets forth a permissible interpretation of the statute’s ambiguous definition of ‘machinegun.’ It therefore merits our deference,” the unsigned majority opinion states.

Calls to ban the devices reached a fever pitch after Stephen Paddock attached several of them to semiautomatic rifles and slaughtered 58 concertgoers in Las Vegas in October 2017, injuring hundreds more.

Two Barack Obama appointees, U.S. Circuit Judges Patricia Millett and Sri Srinivasan, affirmed the district court’s opinion.

U.S. Circuit Judge Karen Henderson, a George H.W. Bush appointee, partially dissented. In her view, the bump-stock ban contradicts the statutory definition of a machine gun.

Henderson said she would only apply Chevron deference if Congress had expressly delegated its lawmaking responsibility.

“The Congress has made no such clear statement,” she wrote in her dissent. “Instead the ATF relies solely on its general rulemaking power and statutory ambiguity.”

Henderson said the rule misconstrues the definition of “automatically,” which in her view would exclude a machine gun with a bump stock, which requires a shooter to maintain “backward pressure on the trigger.”

The Department of Justice declined to comment on the ruling.

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