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Federal Appeals Court Says U.S. Can't Ban Gun Bump Stocks

The latest twist in the legal saga regarding the legality of bump stocks – used to increase the rate of fire on semiautomatic weapons – is a win for gun owners, after a United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit panel unanimously found Tuesday that the government cannot enforce a rule that bans the devices, Courthouse News Service reports. The 1968 federal Gun Control Act, bans possession of a "machine gun," but until 2018 it did not outlaw bump stocks. After the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas during which a gunman used the device to kill 58 people and injure nearly 500 more, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives published a final rule that updated the definition of the term "machine gun" to include bump stocks. A wave of litigation against the ATF ensued, including a federal lawsuit filed by Scott Hardin, a Kentucky anesthesiologist and competitive shooter who destroyed several bump stocks after the rule was put into place. A federal judge dismissed Hardin's complaint and determined the ATF was entitled to so-called Chevron deference, a doctrine that prevents a judge from substituting his or her own opinion in place of an agency's "reasonable interpretation" of federal law.

Around the same time, the full Sixth Circuit heard arguments from Gun Owners of America in a related case and, following a rare split decision, the ruling of a federal judge to allow the ban to take effect was reinstated. Hardin argued before a Sixth Circuit panel in January that his case presented a live controversy despite the ruling in the Gun Owners of America case because his judge had adjudicated his claims on the merits. Senior U.S. Circuit Judge Ronald Gilman wrote Tuesday's opinion and made it clear from the outset he and the other judges considered rulings from many courts before they made their decision. "A total of 22 opinions ... fully explore all aspects of the issue in nearly 350 pages of text," Gilman said. "Without repeating the intricacies of those positions here, there can be no doubt that a significant number of reasonable jurists have reached diametrically opposed conclusions as to whether the definition of a machine gun includes a bump stock." One of the decisions against the bump stock ban came from the New Orleans-based Fifth Circuit, which ruled in January the ATF erred when it reinterpreted the federal ban on machine guns as extending to bump stocks. The Biden administration has appealed to the Supreme Court. Gilman determined the statutory definition of machine gun is ambiguous, not only because of conflicting judicial opinion but "also by the ATF's own flip-flop in its position."


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