On Thursday, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling that opposed the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) 2022 rule designed to address the issue of “ghost guns”.
The decision was made by a three-judge panel appointed by former President Donald Trump, according to Reuters.
The judges determined that the rule exceeded ATF’s authority.
Cody Wisniewski, a lawyer for the Firearms Policy Coalition Action Foundation, stated that the ruling was a “substantial victory against ATF, and a great setback to the Biden administration’s gun control plans.”
The regulation reinterpreted the legal interpretation of “firearm,” “frame” and “receiver” as mentioned in the Gun Control Act of 1968. Judge Kurt Engelhardt wrote in his decision that “the power to transform policy into real-world obligations lies solely with the legislative branch.”
“Where an executive agency engages in what is, for all intents and purposes, ‘law-making,’ the legislature is deprived of its primary function under our Constitution, and our citizens are robbed of their right to fair representation in government. This is especially true when the executive rule-turned-law criminalizes conduct without the say of the people who are subject to its penalties,” he wrote.
Engelhardt said the rule does what the ATF might want Congress to do, but has not done.
“The agency rule at issue here flouts clear statutory text and exceeds the legislatively-imposed limits on agency authority in the name of public policy,” he wrote.
He noted that the ATF had sought to assume Congress’s role in enacting gun control measures. However, it is not within the scope of an executive agency to formulate laws for our nation.
“An agency cannot label conduct lawful one day and felonious the next—yet that is exactly what ATF accomplishes through its Final Rule,” he wrote.
In a concurring opinion, Judge Andrew Oldham fired a magazine of zingers at the ATF.
“ATF’s overarching goal in the Final Rule is to replace a clear, bright-line rule with a vague, indeterminate, multi-factor balancing test. ATF’s rationale: The new uncertainty will act like a Sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of American gun owners,” Oldham wrote, referring to an ancient tale of a deadly blade suspended by a single strand of horsehair.
“Private gunmaking is steeped in history and tradition, dating back to long before the Founding. Millions of law-abiding Americans work on gun frames and receivers every year. In those pursuits, law-abiding Americans (and the law-abiding gun companies that serve them) rely on longstanding regulatory certainty to avoid falling afoul of federal gun laws,” he wrote.
“But if ATF can destroy that certainty, it hopes law-abiding Americans will abandon tradition rather than risk the ruinous felony prosecutions that come with violating the new, nebulous, impossible-to-predict Final Rule,” he wrote.
The ATF rule, he wrote, “is limitless. It purports to regulate any piece of metal or plastic that has been machined beyond its primordial state for fear that it might one day be turned into a gun, a gun frame, or a gun receiver. And it doesn’t stop regulating the metal or plastic until it’s melted back down to ooze. The GCA allows none of this. I concur in the majority’s opinion holding the Final Rule is unlawful,” he wrote.
Despite the ruling, it is likely that the rule will remain in place for a while.
The Hill has reported that the Supreme Court has upheld the rule throughout its court proceedings and is expected to do so again as the Department of Justice appeals to the Supreme Court.