Gun Groups Urge DC Circuit to Unravel Bump-Stock Ban

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)

WASHINGTON (CN) – Unwilling to give up their bump stocks, a device that causes semiautomatic firearms to shoot like automatics, pro-gun groups told the D.C. Circuit on Monday that the government’s new ban is invalid.

The case before the federal appeals court comes just a week after U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich found no cause to enjoin the rule against bump stocks, which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives adopted on Dec. 26.

On appeal, the challengers are taking separate tacks, with a group of gun owners and the Firearms Policy Foundation contending in their brief Monday that the new rule “considerably expands” the federal definition of machine gun to cover bump stocks in violation of the agency’s powers.

The 40-page brief goes into detail about the inner workings of guns, arguing that a gun with a bump stock still fires differently than a machine gun. The group argues that the fundamental difference in the way the two types of guns work means semiautomatic guns with a bump stock do not become machine guns under definitions found in federal law.

“Nothing in the language or mechanics has changed since ATF made those determinations, other than the addition of a naked political desire to exceed the limits set by Congress,” the brief states.

In the other brief, however, the Firearms Policy Coalition focuses on the Trump administration official who signed the ATF’s new rule: then-Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker.

Contending that Whitaker’s appointment violated federal laws for how presidents temporarily replace executive branch officials, the coalition says his leadership of the Justice Department makes the ATF rule invalid. 

Before his ascension to acting AG, Whitaker had been chief of staff to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The coalition notes that this position did not require Whitaker to go through the Senate confirmation process, and that Trump’s decision to elevate him following Sessions’ resignation violates federal appointments laws.

“There must be serious constitutional doubt that the president has the power claimed here, for the straightforward reason that it would essentially enable the president to circumvent the appointments clause,” the brief states.

During his brief stint at the agency, the brief notes, “Whitaker took almost no formal public actions … but Mr. Whitaker did sign a Final Rule regulating certain so-called ‘bump stock’ devices on firearms.”

Whitaker’s last day at the Justice Department was March 2, having become a counselor in the attorney general’s office last month when the Senate confirmed William Barr as attorney general.

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