- Ban on accessories that allow rapid firing has withstood multiple challenges
- Plaintiff argues federal gun agency overstepped authority under federal law
(Reuters) – A gun rights activist asked a federal appeals court on Tuesday to block a Trump administration rule banning bump stocks, gun accessories that allow semi-automatic guns to fire many times in rapid succession.
Richard Samp of the New Civil Liberties Alliance, arguing for plaintiff Michael Cargill, told the full 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans that the prohibition relied on a flawed decision to classify a bump stock as a machine gun under federal law. A bump stock, he said, is not a machine gun because a shooter must continuously pull back on the trigger and push forward on the barrel to fire rapidly.
Mark Stern, representing the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), which issued the ban, said the agency’s interpretation was reasonable and entitled to the court’s deference.
“Even on a machine gun you have to keep holding the trigger back,” he said.
A bump stock allows a gun’s stock, which rests against the user’s shoulder, to slide backward and forward, allowing the user to take advantage of the gun’s recoil to fire rapidly.
Former Republican President Donald Trump’s administration issued the ban, although gun restrictions have historically been championed by Democrats, after a gunman using bump stocks killed 58 people at a country music festival in Las Vegas.
The policy has been challenged in multiple lawsuits.
Samp said Tuesday that the ATF, which had not considered bump stocks to be machine guns before 2018, lacked the authority to reinterpret the statute, and that even if it had the authority, its new interpretation would be wrong.
“A machine gun is a weapon that can fire more than one shot automatically by a single function of the trigger,” he said.
Stern countered that the ATF has the authority to correct its interpretation of statutes. He noted that the agency had banned an earlier, spring-loaded version of the bump stock as a machine gun in 2005 even though it was initially allowed, and that Cargill did not dispute the legality of that decision.
Both sides faced skeptical questioning from the judges.
So far, federal courts including the 5th, 6th, 10th and D.C. Circuits have upheld the ban, though the full 6th Circuit in December split 8-8, one vote short of the majority needed to overturn it. The U.S. Supreme Court has twice rebuffed petitions to review it.
The case is Cargill v. Garland, 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 20-51016.
For Cargill: Richard Samp of the New Civil Liberties Alliance
For the government: Mark Stern of the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Division
(NOTE: This article has been updated with material from Tuesday’s oral arguments.)
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Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York
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