AUG 03, 2021

Attorney General Wilson fights federal overreach in bump stock case as part of 18-state coalition

(COLUMBIA, S.C.) - Attorney General Alan Wilson and 17 other state attorneys general are defending their citizens’ right to keep and bear arms against federal overreach in the form of erroneous rulemaking from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) that criminalized bump stock accessories in a brief filed today in the Gun Owners of America v. Merrick Garland case.

The ATF’s Final Rule on Bump-Stock-Type Devices contravened federal law – as well as longstanding ATF policy – when it informed owners of bump stocks that they must surrender or destroy their bump stocks to avoid criminal liability. A United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit panel rightly ruled against the ATF in March. Attorney General Wilson and the coalition of attorneys general are now urging the full court to do the same.

“This case is about standing up for the rule of law. The Constitution gives Congress the power to make laws, not a federal agency like the ATF,” Attorney General Wilson said. “We can’t allow bureaucrats to undermine the Second Amendment.”

Through its rulemaking, the ATF overreached and attempted to regulate bump stock accessories by asserting they transform the firearms they are attached to into “machineguns” as defined by the National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA).

“The ATF’s Final Rule effectively transforms commonly owned firearms into banned machineguns simply because of the use of non-mechanical bump stock accessories. This interpretation categorically expands the text of the criminal statute in a way that Congress couldn’t possibly have intended,” the brief states. “But it also expands criminal liability at the expense of Second Amendment rights, diminishing the latter absent a sufficient and compelling justification. Surely the federal agency tasked with regulating Second Amendment rights should read its enforcement statutes narrowly. But when the ATF—or any agency—invades protected rights by interpreting statutes too broadly, ‘a court has an obligation to correct its error.’”

The ATF’s bump stock rule is an attempt to contravene Congress and rewrite a statute with no evidence that Congress intended such an interpretation. The ATF itself recognized that “bump-firing” has been around for as long as there have been semiautomatic firearms and that common items such as rubber bands, belt loops, and shoestrings can all be used to the same effect as the accessory they are attempting to criminalize.

“While Congress sometimes delegates authority to federal agencies to fill in gaps or lend expertise in complicated matters, these agencies are not permitted to use their limited policymaking authority to invent new law – particularly when their decisions impose criminal penalties and implicate fundamental constitutional rights,” the brief stated. “Agencies’ sweeping statutory re-interpretations should always arouse judicial suspicion, but capricious course changes that criminalize previously lawful and constitutionally protected behavior should have to endure the cold light of judicial scrutiny.”

Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen led the brief. In addition to Attorney General Wilson, attorneys general from Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming also signed on in support.

Read the Brief in Full

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