If you are a Second Amendment supporter and gun enthusiast, you may feel some whiplash from recent news. On the one hand, the Supreme Court has ruled that the 2018 ban on bump stocks is unlawful. Bump stocks are firearm attachments that make it easier to “bump fire” semi-automatic firearms, which is to use the firearm’s recoil to allow the trigger to be pulled at a faster rate.

But to many Second Amendment supporters, the Trump administration’s “bump stock ban” was a major disappointment. The regulation made a sweeping change to the definition of “machine gun” in order to outlaw bump stocks in the wake of the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting, effectively opening the door for ATF regulation of all semi-automatic firearms.

You may recall that the Las Vegas shooter reportedly shot over 1,000 rounds in a span of 10 minutes from 12 AR-15 style semi-automatic rifles, ultimately killing around 60 people and injuring hundreds more in what is the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. The official investigation concluded that the shooter acted alone and was enabled to wreak such devastation by utilizing bump stocks and high-capacity magazines, all purchased legally. The FBI concluded its investigation without finding any motive.

Following this heinous act of evil, calls for gun control measures were fierce. After proposed regulation banning bump stocks stalled in Congress, the Trump administration’s ATF, prompted by the National Rifle Association, issued an administrative rule that outlawed bump stocks by classifying them as “machine guns.”

The statutory legal definition of “machine gun” is:

any weapon which shoots, is designed to shoot, or can be readily restored to shoot, automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger. 26 U. S. C. §5845(b).

However, the ATF’s 2018 rule redefined the term to include:

a bump-stock-type device, i.e., a device that allows a semi-automatic firearm to shoot more than one shot with a single pull of the trigger by harnessing the recoil energy of the semi-automatic firearm to which it is affixed so that the trigger resets and continues firing without additional physical manipulation of the trigger by the shooter. 83 Fed. Reg. 13442.

The Trump administration’s new rule made felons of any American who even happened to own a bump stock locked in a safe in a box by itself, unattached to any firearm, if they did not either destroy the device or surrender it without compensation to their local ATF office before the rule’s effective date.

The Supreme Court has now ruled in Garland v. Cargill by a vote of 6-3, that the ATF’s bump stock ban is unlawful because bump stocks do not meet the statutory definition of a “machine gun,” and thus the ATF exceeded its authority by classifying them as such. The decision turned on the meaning of “single function of the trigger.” The majority opinion is an excellent breakdown of the mechanics of firearms, complete with diagrams, and ultimately finds that “a semiautomatic rifle will fire only one shot each time the shooter engages the trigger—with or without a bump stock.”

The Cargill decision does not touch on the constitutionality of the National Firearms Act of 1934, however, which outlawed machine guns. As Justice Alito notes in his concurrence:

The horrible shooting spree in Las Vegas in 2017 did not change the statutory text or its meaning. That event demonstrated that a semiautomatic rifle with a bump stock can have the same lethal effect as a machinegun, and it thus strengthened the case for amending §5845(b). But an event that highlights the need to amend a law does not itself change the law’s meaning.

This decision is a victory for textual interpretation of the law that prevents the ATF from regulating semi-automatic firearms without Congress. This is good news for the rule of law.

On the other hand, Arkansas prosecutors have ruled out any charges against ATF agents who killed the executive director of Little Rock’s Clinton National Airport, Bryan Malinowski, in a pre-dawn raid in execution of a search warrant on his house back in March.

Agents rammed down his door a mere 28 seconds after knocking, Malinowski got out of bed in the dark and shot an agent in the foot 16 seconds later. Another agent returned fire, hitting him in the head, inflicting injuries from which he died two days later. The ATF alleges he violated paperwork regulations by selling firearms without a license. Malinowski’s family asserts that he believed his actions were lawful as a hobbyist private individual. Regardless of whether the ATF’s allegations that Malinowski broke the law are true, the circumstances indicate that this tragedy should have been easily avoidable.

Bump stocks may be legal again, but the ATF’s actions indicate that you better be careful buying or selling them.

With the current Supreme Court’s recent strong set of opinions defending the Second Amendment based on the Founders’ understanding, there is reason to wonder whether the ATF itself is due for review.

Talmadge Butts is Lead Staff Attorney for the Foundation for Moral Law (www.morallaw.org). Those with constitutional concerns may call the Foundation at (334) 262-1245 or email talmadge@morallaw.org.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819news.com

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