Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals Rejects Bump Stock Ruling

Towards the end of April, a three-judge panel for the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling against the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) bump stock rule in Hardin v. ATF.

The case focused on a rule the ATF implemented in the wake of the Las Vegas massacre in 2017. This new rule designated bump stocks as machine guns. Such a move by the ATF was quite radical. For years, the agency maintained that bump stocks were not machine guns. Initially, the ATF asserted that bump stocks were not machine guns because the user pulls the trigger each time the gun is fired.

However, as a result of the rule change, multiple legal challenges against the ATF were in several federal circuit circuits. The Tenth Circuit and DC Circuit Court ruled to maintain the ATF’s bump stock rule. On a previous occasion, the Sixth Circuit issued a split 8-8 ruling on a legal challenge to the ATF rule. As a result of the tie, the District Court’s decision stayed in place, thereby maintaining the federal government’s position.

In a recent case at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, Cargill v. Garland, the court ruled by a vote of 13-3 that the ATF was in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) by overstepping its boundaries. In addition, the court asserted that the ATF’s rule violated the rule of lenity. The rule of lenity stipulates that when a criminal statute is unambiguous or unclear in nature, the law must be interpreted in the defense’s favor. The Court kicked the case back down to the District Court to rule in favor of Michael Cargill and provide appropriate relief. The District Court ruled in Cargill’s favor but did not provide any relief. The Federal government later petitioned the US Supreme Court to hear the case, and the District Judge would stay the decision until SCOTUS makes a decision to take on the case..

In the Hardin case, the Sixth Circuit Court did not rule on a violation of the APA. However, the court ruled that the ATF’s bump stock rule transgressed on the rule of lenity.. The court subsequently remanded the case back to the District Court to issue a ruling that is line with the panel’s decision.

“An Act of Congress could clear up the ambiguities, but so far, Congress has failed to act. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (the ATF) has been on both sides of this issue, with its current regulation (the Rule) banning bump stocks as a machinegun part. In this situation, the rule of lenity that is applicable to criminal offenses requires us to rule in favor of Hardin,”  Judge Ronald Gilman wrote in a decision. As John Crump of AmmoLand noted, Gilman is a Bill Clinton appointee.

The courts have their place in the fight to restore the Second Amendment. However, there are limits to litigation strategies. Gun owners will ultimately have to start taking over their local and state governments in order to create bulwarks against federal overreach. A combination of federal legislative activism, nullification at the state and local level, and litigation campaigns will be needed to push back against Gun Control Inc. 

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