During his State of the Union 2022 addressPresident Joe Biden promised he would “continue to do everything in my power” to eliminate “phantom weapons that you can buy online and make at home”. But Biden actually tried to do something that was not in his power: He claimed to prohibit this previously legal activity by administrative decree, causing a preliminary injunction it was extended last week.
In a rule which came into effect last August, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) rewritten federal law in a vain attempt to prevent Americans from making their own weapons. This rule is part of a pattern: Both the Biden and Trump administrations have sought to unilaterally impose new gun controls, reversing longstanding ATF positions while challenging the rule of law and separation. powers.
Two Texas gun owners, a company that sells gun parts and the Firearms Policy Coalition challenged the ATF rule in a trial they filed August 11 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas. Three weeks later, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor concluded that the plaintiffs were correct that the ATF exceeded its statutory authority.
Federal law defines a “firearm” as “any weapon” which “will or is designed for or can be readily converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive”. The definition also includes “the frame or receiver of such a weapon”, meaning “the main structural component of a firearm to which fire control components are attached.”
From 1978 to 2022, the ATF definition of firearms followed this language by excluding partially manufactured frames or receivers. The new rule, O’Connor Remarks“deviates from nearly 45 years of ATF precedent” by classifying these parts as firearms when they are “designed for or can readily be” converted into frames or receivers.
The rule goes even further by treating kits of parts as firearms when they are “designed for or can be readily” used to assemble a firearm. Both of these extensions, O’Connor said, are inconsistent with the “plain language” of the law.
The ATF’s about-face in service of Biden’s gun control agenda threatened to destroy an industry that catered to DIY gun makers based on the law’s previous interpretation by the agency. Tactical machiningone of the original plaintiffs in this lawsuit, said the agency’s edict, which turned legal businesses into criminal enterprises, would wipe out more than 90% of its revenue.
Such bureaucratic reversals can also turn law-abiding gun owners into criminals overnight. Think of the Trump administration just as arbitrary ban on shock stocks, accessories that facilitate a rapid-fire technique in which a rifle moves back and forth, repeatedly activating the trigger by bumping it against a stationary finger.
When this ban came into effect in March 2019, gun owners who had legally purchased bump stocks were suddenly commit crimes punishable by a $250,000 fine and up to 10 years in federal prison, even if the law had not changed. In January, the United States Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled that the ATF had no legal authority to enforce the bump stock ban, which was based on an implausible redefinition of “machine gun” that contradicted the position the ATF had taken for years.
A Biden administration rule which classified pistols with stabilizer reinforcements as “short-barreled shotguns”, contrary to what the ATF had been saying for a decade, had a similar impact. He criminalized legal businesses and threatened customers who did not register the reinforced pistols with heavy fines and up to 10 years in prison.
In a federal trial filed last month, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton argues that the gun splint rule, like the ATF redefinitions of firearms and machine guns, was never authorized by Congress . Whatever you think of the merits of these policies, the system of government devised by the writers does not allow the executive to legislate under the guise of regulation.
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