A federal appeals court Thursday ruled that a federal regulation barring bump stocks is likely illegal and was incorrect in claiming that the devices make a weapon a machine gun.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the accessories are not subject to a 2018 ban imposed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) at the order of then-President Donald Trump.
Bump stocks are plastic accessories that allow semi-automatic weapons to fire continuously in the manner of a machine gun, which have been more-or-less banned for decades.
But, the 6th Circuit ruled in a 2-1 decision, the 2018 finding by BATF that bump stocks were machine guns, which reversed a 2010 finding on the same subject, was in error and the lower-court was wrong to refuse to issue an injunction against the regulation.
In the 2-1 decision, Judges Alice Batchelder and Eric Murphy ruled that the regulation alters criminal law and thus has to be done by Congress.
“it is not the role of the executive — particularly the unelected administrative state — to dictate to the public what is right and what is wrong,” they wrote.
The judges said U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney in Michigan should have issued an injunction and ordered the case back to his court.
The gun-rights groups that brought the case “are likely to prevail on the merits and … their motion for an injunction should have been granted,” the appeals court said.
The 6th Circuit ruling said that the presumptions granted to regulatory agencies should not have been applied by Judge Maloney, in large part because the ATF regulation was factually incorrect.
“And because we find that ‘single function of the trigger’ refers to the mechanical process of the trigger, 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 panel wrote.
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment about whether it plans to appeal.
Gun-rights groups quickly praised the decision Thursday afternoon by the Cincinnati-based court.
“Today’s court decision is great news and told gun owners what they already knew,” said Erich Pratt, senior vice president of Gun Owners of America, one of the parties that brought the suit.
The ruling does not strike down the regulation nationwide, though the district judge’s expected injunction does apply in the 6th Circuit’s four states — Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee — and binds the parties themselves, who include the attorney general and the BATF.
The court decision noted that the 10th U.S. Circuit and the Circuit for the District of Columbia had reached contrary findings, setting up a circuit split and raising the chance of a Supreme Court showdown.
• Alex Swoyer contributed to this report.