FPF Appeals Federal Court Judgment Upholding Unconstitutional ATF Bump-stock Ban

February 19, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C. (February 19, 2021) — Firearm Policy Foundation (FPF) announced today that it has appealed Federal District Court Judge Dabney L. Friedrich’s order and memorandum opinion, also issued today, upholding the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) unconstitutional bump-stock ban directed to be enacted by former President Donald Trump. FPF’s Guedes v. BATFE lawsuit, filed on December 18, 2018, was the first challenge to the ban in the country, and has already been to the Supreme Court once on an interlocutory appeal. The case will now be heard on the merits by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and likely proceed to the U.S. Supreme Court once more. 

The plaintiffs in Guedes v. BATFE are represented by Adam Kraut, Joshua Prince of Civil Rights Defense Firm, and Erik Jaffe of Supreme Court firm Schaerr | Jaffe of Washington, D.C., a former law clerk to Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg of the D.C. Circuit and to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Case documents, including the ruling issued earlier today, can be found at BumpstockCase.com

“Does owning a bump stock expose a citizen to a decade in federal prison? For years, the government didn’t think so. But recently the [ATF] changed its mind. Now, according to a new interpretive rule from the agency, owning a bump stock is forbidden by a longstanding federal statute that outlaws the ‘possession [of] a machinegun’,” Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in a statement regarding the earlier appeal. “[W]hatever else one thinks about [Chevron deference], it has no role to play when liberty is at stake,” he said. 

“The errors apparent in [the] preliminary ruling might yet be corrected before final judgment. Further, other courts of appeals are actively considering challenges to the same regulation. Before deciding whether to weigh in, we would benefit from hearing their considered judgments—provided, of course, that they are not afflicted with the same problems. But waiting should not be mistaken for lack of concern,” Justice Gorsuch’s statement concluded.

In spite of the Justice’s words of caution, the District Court’s wrongly-decided opinion today held the statutory language defining the term “machinegun” to be ambiguous, since Congress did not define the terms “single function of the trigger” and “automatically.” In so finding, the Court determined that ATF’s interpretation of those phrases were “reasonable,” and that ATF “reasonably interpreted an ambiguous statute, and its interpretation is entitled to deference.” The Court further concluded that ATF had the legal authority to promulgate the bump-stock ban rule, did not act in an arbitrary or capricious manner, and had satisfied its obligation to reasonably explain its change in position.

“While we had hoped Justice Gorsuch’s guidance might trigger a closer look at the bump-stock rule at the trial court level, the ball is now back in the D.C. Circuit’s court,” said Jaffe. “We are hopeful the Circuit Court will reconsider its reasoning from the preliminary injunction appeal or, if not, provide a quick decision that expedites our return to the Supreme Court. The reliance on deference in the context of this case is a serious error for many reasons, and we look forward to fully litigating those issues before the appellate courts.”

“In outright defiance of the doctrines of vagueness and lenity, while conceding that the definition of ‘machinegun’ is ambiguous, the district court affirmed ATF’s rule using a legal analysis that the late Justice Scalia would call ‘pure applesauce’,” commented Prince. “This type of interpretive ‘jiggery-pokery’ by ATF and the district court cannot stand under our Constitution. We look forward to vindicating the rights of bump-stock owners and all Americans, who have a right to constitutionally sound laws and operation of government.”

“While any patently incorrect opinion is disappointing, it is hardly a surprising result at the trial court level,” noted plaintiffs’ attorney Adam Kraut. “This important strategic case will now be allowed to go on to the D.C. Circuit and Supreme Court for ultimate adjudication of the plaintiffs’ claims and underlying legal issues. Because we are eager to address the ban’s serious legal infirmities at the appellate level, we have already filed the notice of appeal and look forward to vindicating the rights of our clients and everyone affected by this outrageous and unconstitutional rule.”

“The Constitution does not allow executive branch departments to act as the ATF did here and we will continue to fiercely advocate to reign in this abusive and rogue agency,” Kraut concluded.

Firearms Policy Foundation (www.firearmsfoundation.org) is a grassroots 501(c)3 nonprofit public benefit organization. FPF’s mission is to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and the People’s rights, privileges, and immunities deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition—especially the inalienable, fundamental, and individual right to keep and bear arms.

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