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US Appeals court rules bump stock devices are not ‘machine guns’

Bump Fire Stock mounted on a GP WASR-10/36 AK-47.(WASR/Wikimedia Commons)
March 25, 2021

The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Thursday that bump stock accessories cannot be considered “machine guns” and thus not subjected to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) ban.

On Dec. 26, 2018, ATF classified plastic bump stock accessories as “machine guns” defined in the Gun Control Act and National Firearms Act, despite them having no ability to fire on their own. The move came after former President Donald Trump’s Feb. 20, 2018 memo ordering the Attorney General to develop the ban, which was spurred by reactions to the deadly Oct. 2017 Las Vegas shooting carried out using bump stocks affixed to rifles.

“The district court erred by finding that the ATF’s Final Rule, which interpreted the meaning of a machine gun as defined in 26 U.S.C. § 5845(b), was entitled to Chevron deference,” the 6th Circuit ruling said, in reversing the district court’s decision.

“And because we find that “single function of the trigger” refers to the mechanical process of the trigger, we further hold that a bump stock cannot be classified as a machine gun because a bump stock does not enable a semiautomatic firearm to fire more than one shot each time the trigger is pulled.”

The ruling comes two years after the ATF’s ban went into effect on March 26, 2019, illegalizing an estimated 500,000 bump stock accessories owned by Americans.

The case was filed by Gun Owners of America (GOA), Gun Owners Foundation (GOF), the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL), Matt Watkins, Tim Harmsen of the Military Arms Channel, and GOA’s Texas Director, Rachel Malone.

“Today’s court decision is great news and told gun owners what they already knew,” GOA Senior Vice President Erich Pratt told American Military News. “We are glad the court finally applied the statute accurately and struck down the ATF’s illegal overreach and infringement of gun owners’ rights.”

In 2010, ATF had originally deemed bump stocks different from machine guns and unable to be subjected to the same regulation as machine guns.

Unlike the internal mechanisms of a machine gun that permit high rates of automatic fire in rapid bursts, a bump stock is a plastic accessory that is affixed externally to a semi-automatic gun. Without changing the internal components, a bump stock uses the gun’s recoil to then “bump” the gun back against the user’s finger, causing another round to fire.

A bump stock does not change a semi-automatic gun’s ability to shoot one bullet per trigger pull, whereas a machine gun fires a rapid burst of bullets per single trigger pull. Instead, a bump stock enables the trigger to be pulled quickly, simulating a higher rate of fire than a user can typically achieve with the unaided action of their finger.

The U.S. Supreme Court had refused to hear two separate appeals to the ATF’s bump stock ban in early 2019.