WASHINGTON, DC (February 28, 2019)—On Monday U.S. District Judge Dabney L. Friedrich rejected preliminary injunction requests in a pair of consolidated lawsuits, Guedes v. ATF and Correa v. Barr, seeking to block the Bump Stock-type Devices Final Rule. Several other cases await decision across the country, including one brought in the District of Utah by the New Civil Liberties Alliance on behalf of its client Clark Aposhian, who is chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council.
The Rule issued by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) bans the possession of all bump-fire stocks and takes effect March 26th, turning an estimated 520,000 owners of bump stock devices into felons unless they destroy or surrender the accessory by that date.
Judge Friedrich’s disappointing decision mostly turns on her rote application of the Chevron doctrine. Under that misguided precedent, judges are instructed to defer to agencies’ statutory interpretations where the judge deems the statute ambiguous and an agency’s interpretation of it reasonable.
NCLA’s lawsuit raises key issues not raised in the D.C. litigation, including the fact that judges cannot defer to agencies’ interpretations of criminal statutes under Chevron. Instead, the longstanding Rule of Lenity requires courts to interpret ambiguities in such statutes in favor of criminal defendants.
Furthermore, NCLA’s Complaint shows that dozens of previous federal court decisions have held that this statute is not ambiguous, which deprives the Department of Justice and ATF of the ability to rewrite it. The lawsuit also points out that Congress did not ban machine guns themselves retroactively, so only an unreasonable reading of the statute would allow a regulation based on that statute to ban bump stocks retroactively.
NCLA’s hearing in federal district court occurred on February 14th regarding its request for a Preliminary Injunction, which is currently awaiting a decision.
“The Rule of Lenity does not allow an overstepping federal agency to rewrite a federal criminal statute and turn half a million law-abiding citizens into felons. Without the ATF’s ability to hide behind the Chevron doctrine, NCLA is confident that the bump stock rule will be rejected.” —Caleb Kruckenberg, NCLA Litigation Counsel
“Judge Friedrich’s decision once again underscores the problem with Chevron deference. Federal judges have developed a bad habit of deferring to federal agencies. If Congress wants to ban bump stocks, then Congress has to pass a law to do so—especially to ban them retroactively.”
—Mark Chenoweth, NCLA Executive Director and General Counsel
NCLA is a nonprofit civil rights organization founded by prominent legal scholar Philip Hamburger to protect constitutional freedoms from violations by the administrative state. NCLA’s public-interest litigation and other pro bonoadvocacy strive to tame the unchecked power of state and federal agencies and to foster a new civil liberties movement that will help restore Americans’ fundamental rights.
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