Criminal Justice

Gun owner who challenged ban on bump stocks wins in latest 6th Circuit decision

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A federal appeals court has ruled in favor of a gun owner who challenged a federal regulation that bans bump stocks—the devices that dramatically accelerate gunfire on semi-automatic rifles.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Cincinnati ruled for Kentucky competitive shooter Scott A. Hardin in an April 25 panel opinion.

Courthouse News Service, Bloomberg Law and Law360 have coverage.

The U.S. Supreme Court has been asked to rule on the issue in an appeal of a decision by a different appeals court, the 5th Circuit at New Orleans, according to Courthouse News Service. The 5th Circuit ruled that it’s up to Congress to ban bump stocks.

At issue in the cases is whether a bump stock is a machine gun “part” that can be banned under the law that prohibits possession of machine guns.

The 6th Circuit noted that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has flip-flopped on the issue. At first, the agency maintained that a bump stock is not a machine gun part, but it changed its position after a shooter used bump stocks attached to semi-automatic rifles to kill 58 people in Las Vegas.

Other federal appeals courts that have considered the issue are divided.

“And our own circuit is split down the middle, with eight judges voting to uphold the rule and eight judges voting to strike it down,” the 6th Circuit said, referring to a 2021 en banc opinion. The split had the effect of upholding a district court decision in a different case that allowed the bump-stock ban to take effect.

Those differing interpretations show that the machine gun law is ambiguous as applied to bump stocks, the appeals court said in the Hardin case. And because the machine gun law carries criminal penalties, the rule of lenity applies. That rule requires courts to resolve ambiguity in statutes in favor of criminal defendants.

“Because the relevant statutory scheme does not clearly and unambiguously prohibit bump stocks, we are bound to construe the statute in Hardin’s favor,” the 6th Circuit said.

The author of the opinion was Senior Judge Ronald Gilman, an appointee of former President Bill Clinton.

The case is Hardin v. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

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