NEW ORLEANS (AP) – The Trump administration banned bump stocks – devices that enable a shooter to rapidly fire multiple rounds from semi-automatic weapons after the initial trigger pull – a federal appeals court in New Orleans on Friday struck down by the court.
The ban was imposed after a gunman killed dozens of people with a bump stocked weapon. Las Vegas in 2017. Gun rights advocates have challenged it in several courts. The 13-3 decision in the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals is the latest on the issue, which is likely to be decided in the Supreme Court.
The decision does not have an immediate effect on the ban, as the case now goes back to a lower court to decide how to proceed.
The case was somewhat unique because the issue involved the interpretation of federal laws, not the Second Amendment. Opponents of the ban argued that bump stocks do not fall under the definition of illegal machine guns in federal law. The US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives says they do, a position now being defended by the Biden administration.
“A plain reading of the statutory language paired with a close consideration of the mechanics of a semi-automatic firearm reveals that a bump stock is excluded from the technical definition of ‘machine gun’ set forth in the Gun Control Act and the National Firearms Act. ” Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod wrote in the lead majority opinion.
The court found that the definition of machine gun—which is set out in two separate federal statutes—”does not apply to bump stocks.”
The ban survived challenges in the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati; the 10th Circuit based in Denver; and the Federal Circuit Court in Washington. A panel of three judges in the 5th Circuit also ruled in favor of the ban, upholding a lower court decision by a federal judge in Texas. But the full New Orleans-based court voted to reconsider the case. The arguments were heard on 13 September.
According to the ATF, bump stocks use the recoil energy of a semiautomatic firearm so that a trigger can “reset and continue firing without additional physical manipulation of the trigger by the shooter”. According to court records, a shooter must maintain constant pressure on the weapon with the non-shooting hand, and must maintain constant pressure on the trigger with the trigger finger.
The full appeals court took the side of opponents of the ATF rule on Friday. They argued that when the bump stock is used the trigger itself acts multiple times, so bump stock weapons do not qualify as machine guns under federal law. They point to language in the law that defines a machine gun as a machine gun capable of firing multiple times with “a single action of the trigger.”
The majority also agreed that if the law is unclear, it is up to Congress to address the issue under a court doctrine known as “liberality”.
In a dissenting opinion, Judge Stephen Higginson disagreed that bump stocks do not fall within the federal definition of a machine gun. And he wrote that the interpretation of the principle of majority was too broad. “Under the majority’s ruling, the defendant wins by default whenever the government fails to prove that a statute clearly criminalized the defendant’s conduct,” Higginson wrote.
Richard Samp, who argued against the rule on behalf of Texas gun owners, said he was pleased with Friday’s decision and had expected it after the September debate.
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment Friday evening.
Judges who ruled against the ban included Elrod, Priscilla Richman, Edith Jones, Jerry Smith, Carl Stewart, Leslie Southwick, Katharina Haynes, Dawn Willett, James Ho, Kyle Duncan, Kurt Engelhardt, Corey Wilson and Andrew Oldham. All of the appeals courts except Stewart are Republican appointees.
Justices James Dennis and James Graves joined in dissenting to Higginson. The case was debated before Judge Dana Douglas, recently appointed to the 5th Circuit by Democratic President Joe Biden, joined her.
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