Appeals Court Strikes Down Major Gun Accessory Ban, But It May Be Headed to the Supreme Court

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The United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday struck down a Trump administration rule banning bump stocks — firearm accessories that help shooters fire multiple rounds using the recoil of semi-automatic rifles.

The New Orleans-based court ruled 13-3 that the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) cannot interpret laws banning machine guns as covering bump stocks, according to a Reuters report.

“A plain reading of the statutory language, paired with close consideration of the mechanics of a semi-automatic firearm, reveals that a bump stock is excluded from the technical definition of ‘machinegun’ set forth in the Gun Control Act and National Firearms Act,” Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod wrote in the majority opinion.

Elrod further said the Trump administration rule did not give gun owners “fair warning that possession of a non-mechanical bump stock is a crime.”

Stephen Higginson, one of the dissenting justices, wrote, “Today, our court extends lenity, once a rule of last resort, to rewrite a vital public safety statute banning machine guns since 1934.” He added that the majority was using “lenity to legalize an instrument of mass murder.”

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The Trump administration’s Department of Justice instituted the ban after the deadly 2017 Las Vegas shooting. The Justice Department announced the rule on December 18, 2018.

According to the Associated Press, the gunman in that shooting had used firearms equipped with bump stocks to kill his victims.

“We are faithfully following President Trump’s leadership by making clear that bump stocks, which turn semiautomatics into machine guns, are illegal, and we will continue to take illegal guns off of our streets,” then-Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker said when announcing the rule, according to reporting from NBC News.

The rule amended ATF regulations to classify bump-stock devices as machine guns, banning the ownership and sale of such equipment.

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The rule soon came under legal challenge, with opponents framing their dispute as one related to the separation of powers.

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