ATF Cannot Decide to Define Bump Stocks as “Machine Guns” as Defined by 26 U.S.C. § 5845(b)

Posted 1 year ago — Ooley Law Blog

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the Executive Branch cannot decide to define Bump Stocks as “Machine Guns”.


Read the full opinion, with good historical references:


The question before the 6th Circuit was whether a bump stock may be properly classified as a machine gun as defined by 26 U.S.C. § 5845(b). The court noted that the case is as much about who determines the statute’s meaning as it does on what the statute means.


On December 26, 2018, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (“ATF” or “Agency”) promulgated a rule that classified bump stocks as machine guns, reversing its previous position. See Bump-Stock-Type Devices, 83 Fed. Reg. 66,514 (Dec. 26, 2018) (to be codified at 27 C.F.R. pts. 447, 478, 479) (“Final Rule”). Plaintiffs-Appellants—three gun rights organizations, two individuals who own bump stocks, and one individual who would purchase a bump stock if not for the Final Rule—filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to prevent the Final Rule from taking effect.


After finding that the ATF’s interpretation was entitled to Chevron deference, the district court held that the Final Rule’s classification of bump stocks as machine guns was “a permissible interpretation” of § 5845(b). Accordingly, the court concluded that Plaintiffs-Appellants were unlikely to succeed on the merits and denied the preliminary injunction.


Because an agency’s interpretation of a criminal statute is not entitled to Chevron deference and because the ATF’s Final Rule is not the best interpretation of § 5845(b), the 6th Circuit appellate court reversed the district court’s judgment.