A bump stock is a modified stock that can be attached to a semiautomatic firearm to enable it to fire bullets more rapidly. Several months after the deadly 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting, in which the shooter attached bump stocks to several of his semi-automatic weapons, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) issued a federal rule banning the use of bump stocks.
The ATF's administrative decision made semi-automatic firearms with bump stocks equivalent to machine guns because they "allow a shooter of a semi-automatic firearm to initiate a continuous firing cycle with a single pull of the trigger." (Related: Federal appeals court overwhelmingly overturns Trump-era ban on rifle bump stocks.)
The ban went into effect in 2019 and made possession of bump stocks. a federal crime carrying a penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The Supreme Court refused to intervene to block the ATF from enforcing this ban. This led Michael Cargill, owner of Central Texas Gun Works in Austin, to challenge the law in federal court. He initially lost his challenge in federal district court before a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit. He appealed this decision and won in the Fifth Circuit's appeals court.
The appeals court agreed with Cargill, who argued that the ATF lacked the legislative authority to include bump stocks under the statutory definition of a machine gun, writing: "A plain reading of the statutory language, paired with close consideration of the mechanics of a semi-automatic firearm, reveals that a bump stock is excluded from the technical definition of a machine gun."
The ATF failed to file a motion to block the Fifth Circuit's ruling by Feb. 27, the court-appointed deadline. Thus, the appeals court's ruling stands.
"I wasn't surprised," said Cargill when he found out about the Fifth Circuit's decision. "I was excited, because I felt that this was the absolute right decision to make."
Other firearms entrepreneurs were also excited by the Fifth Circuit's ruling, including Jeremiah Cottle.
Cottle invented and patented one of the most modern iterations of the bump stock, which he calls a slide stock. He ran a company based out of Moran, Texas, called Slide Fire Solutions that sold these devices for over eight years before the Las Vegas shooting.
"And then the government came after me," said Cottle. By the time the ban was passed in December 2018, Cottle was forced to shut down the company amid lawsuits, and another company took over selling off the remaining inventory.
Around 10 days before the ATF's deadline to file a motion of reconsideration, Cottle rebranded Slide Fire Solutions into the American Bump Stock Company and resumed sales thru the company's website. Business has so far been slow. Cottle blames this on trouble processing credit card payments and uncertainty over how long it will remain legal for gun owners to own bump stocks.
"People are afraid of what the government is going to do," he said.
"They could relitigate it as it goes to remand," warned Dru Stevenson, professor at the South Texas College of Law Houston. "We're kind of waiting to see what happens."
Furthermore, these devices can only be sold to gun owners in Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana, as the ban reversal only affects buyers, sellers and owners within these three states. The ATF can still enforce the ban in the rest of the country.
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Watch this clip from the Next News Network as Elijah Schaffer reports on the disturbing possibility that the ATF could abolish the Second Amendment.