The Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals handed a victory to the Virginia Citizens Defense League and Gun Owners of America this week when it struck down an ATF ban on bump stocks. This case has been rattling around in the courts ever since the mass shooting in Las Vegas brought the question of bump stocks into public scrutiny. Judging by the wording of the ruling, however, it sounds like there may still be a way for the government to ban these specific accessories, but not the way that the ATF went about it when the ban first went into effect. Still, at least for now, the ban is on the shelf, though I’m not sure this actually qualifies as a Second Amendment issue. (Free Beacon)
A federal appeals court ruled against the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) bump stock ban and confiscation order on Thursday.
The Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the ATF improperly redefined bump stocks as machine guns in 2018, a move that effectively banned the devices in the aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting that killed dozens. The court ruled the ATF could not redefine the term without new legislation passed by Congress. The majority found bump stocks do not fit under the federal definition of a machine gun.
“We further hold that a bump stock cannot be classified as a machine gun because a bump stock does not enable a semiautomatic firearm to fire more than one shot each time the trigger is pulled,” the court said in the ruling.
This ruling seems to exhibit some common sense and I can’t imagine the Supreme Court overturning it if the case ever makes it that far. What the ATF attempted to do was define a bump stock as a “machine gun.” That definition fails the test of logic on two different levels. First of all, that accessory isn’t a “gun” to begin with. It has no ability to fire a bullet on its own. And as the court notes in the ruling, even you attach the bump stock to a semiautomatic rifle, you are still only able to fire one bullet with each pull of the trigger. Granted, you can pull the trigger really quickly by using a bump stock, but the definition of “semiautomatic” still stands.
As I noted above, however, I remain unsure as to whether bump stocks, in general, would survive any and all attempts by the government to ban them or if this is even properly classified as a Second Amendment issue. My reasons for this question are the same as the rationale the court used in this case. The Second Amendment doesn’t allow the government to ban common firearms (or at least it shouldn’t) but a bump stock isn’t a firearm. It’s an accessory. Banning the sale of accessories doesn’t infringe on a citizen’s right to keep and bear arms.
I imagine this issue being similar to a hypothetical attempt to ban rifle scopes, not that I can envision anyone trying to do that. The scope is also an accessory, not a firearm. Yes, it can make a rifle more deadly from a distance, but the lack of a scope doesn’t prevent you from using the rifle. It only makes the shooter less accurate.
But that argument only applies to challenges based solely on the Second Amendment. In order for the government to ban anything, they have to be able to justify doing so based on a demonstrable harm that the product would cause. We have bans on the sale or possession of dangerous drugs and also controlled pharmaceutical drugs without a prescription. The sale of explosives to unlicensed individuals is similarly banned. So can the government make the argument that an accessory such as a bump stock makes a rifle more dangerous than it already was?
The more I consider that question, the more I get the feeling that a ban crafted on that basis would fail the test of logic as well. A semiautomatic rifle is already a dangerous tool in the wrong hands, but it’s constitutionally protected. The bump stock by itself isn’t dangerous unless you’re hitting someone over the head with it. As I said, I’m really not sure how this would play out if the ATF attempts to enact a ban on that basis, but it would certainly be an interesting question to put to the test.