The Trump administration’s ban on bump stocks, devices that increase the rate of fire of semiautomatic firearms, is likely lawful, a divided Tenth Circuit held Thursday, rejecting a request to temporarily lift the ban.
Federal regulators properly interpreted a machine gun-related provision of the National Firearms Act to ban the devices, a majority of the federal appeals court held.
Bump stocks replace a rifle’s standard stock and allow users to shoot more than one shot per pull of the trigger by harnessing the gun’s recoil energy to rapidly move the firearm back and forth, bumping the shooter’s stationary finger against the moving trigger.
In 2017, a gunman in Las Vegas used semiautomatic rifles equipped with bump stocks to kill 58 people and wound about 500. Following that mass shooting, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives issued a new rule classifying bump stocks as machine guns under the National Firearms Act. Individuals would be criminally liable for owning such devices after March 26, 2019.
W. Clark Aposhian challenged the rule, arguing that classifying bump stocks as machine guns clearly contradicts the text of the NFA.
The NFA defines a machine gun as “any weapon which shoots, is designed to shoot, or can be readily restored to shoot, automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger,” as well as devices which convert a weapon into a machine gun.
This statutory definition is ambiguous, and ATF reasonably interpreted it to include bump stocks, the Tenth Circuit said.
Aposhian argued that “single function of the trigger” must mean a single mechanical act of the trigger. But ATF reasonably interpreted it to mean a single pull of the trigger, the court said.
The plaintiff also argued that bump stocks don’t cause guns to fire “automatically” because the shooter must keep constant backward pressure on the device’s extension ledge with their trigger finger and keep forward pressure with their non-trigger hand to keep shooting. But the word “automatically” can be read “to permit limited human involvement to bring about ‘more than one shot,’” the court said.
The public’s safety interest also weighs against a prleiminary injunction, the court said.
The majority opinion was written by Judge Mary Beck Briscoe and joined by Judge Nancy L. Moritz.
Judge Joel M. Carson dissented, saying the NFA unambiguously excludes bump stocks from the definition of machine gun. “As is now often the case, the Executive Branch steps in and seeks to remedy an unpopular or poorly drafted law through an administrative regulation,” Carson said.
The New Civil Liberties Alliance represents Aposhian.
The case is Aposhian v. Barr, 10th Cir., No. 19-04036, 5/7/20.