Fifth Circuit Finalizes Ruling In Favor of Plaintiff in Cargill v. Garland, Legalizes Bump Stocks in Three States

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In January the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the ATF’s Trump-mandated bump stock ban was unconstitutional. Today, in a 13-3 ruling, the Court of Appeals finalized its ruling, mandating that the case — Cargill v. Garland — be remanded to the lower court to reverse its decision [that upheld the ban] and enter a judgement in favor of the plaintiff, Michael Cargill.

As the court majority wrote . . .

Many commentators argue that non-mechanical bump stocks contribute to firearm deaths and that the Final Rule is good public policy. We express no opinion on those arguments because it is not our job to determine our nation’s public policy. Thatsolemn responsibility lies with the Congress, and our task is confined to deciding cases and controversies, which requires us to apply the law as Congress has written it.

In defining the term machinegun, Congress referred to the mechanism by which the gun’s trigger causes bullets to be fired. Policy judgments aside,we are bound to apply that mechanical definition. And applying that definition to a semi-automatic rifle equipped with a non-mechanical bump stock, we conclude that such a weapon is not a machinegun for purposes of the Gun Control Act and National Firearms Act. Chevron deference likely has no role here either because the Government waived it or because it does not apply to the Government’s interpretation of a statute imposing criminal penalties. Finally, even if the statute were ambiguous—which it is not—the rule of lenity would require that we interpret the statute in Cargill’s favor. As Justice Holmes framed it years ago, “it is reasonable that a fair warning should be given to the world in language that the common world will understand, of what the law intends to do if a certain line is passed.” McBoyle, 283 U.S. at 27. We cannot say that the National Firearms Act and Gun Control Act give that fair warning that possession of a non-mechanical bump stock is a crime.

The Final Rule promulgated by the ATF violates the APA. We therefore REVERSE the judgment of the district court and REMAND with instructions to enter judgment for Cargill.

And with that, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has now legalized bump stocks in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. You can read the ruling here.

Three other circuits have upheld the ATF’s ban. The Fifth Circuit’s order officially creates a Circuit Court split, setting up an almost certain review by the Supreme Court which could go much farther than just bump stocks, possibly limiting the extent to which regulatory agencies and the administrative state are free to “interpret,” alter, and create laws. That, of course, is actually Congress’s job, if you believe what the Constitution says.

Watch this space.

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