The President has hit another setback in court, and it’s only going to get worse for him from here.
Just over a week ago, Judge Federal District Court Judge Reed O’Connor vacated the ATF rule that redefined what constitutes a firearm in an effort from Joe Biden to bring homemade guns under the agency’s purview. He found the rule expanded the agency’s power beyond its constitutional bounds and contradicted the statutory language it was interpreting.
“This case presents the question of whether the federal government may lawfully regulate partially manufactured firearm components, related firearm products, and other tools and materials in keeping with the Gun Control Act of 1968,” Judge O’Connor wrote in Vanderstok v. Garland. “Because the Court concludes that the government cannot regulate those items without violating federal law, the Court holds that the government’s recently enacted Final Rule… is unlawful agency action taken in excess of the ATF’s statutory jurisdiction. On this basis, the Court vacates the Final Rule.”
The “ghost gun” ban is just the latest domino to fall in the legal fight against Biden’s executive actions. The first was the bump stock ban. Implemented by President Donald Trump but defended by the Biden Administration, the successful case against it in the Fifth Circuit laid the groundwork for the fight against the other ATF rules that came after.
Interestingly, that case is not based on Second Amendment claims. Even though the Supreme Court handed down a landmark gun case in last year’s New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen, the High Court’s new history and tradition test is nowhere to be seen in Judge O’Connor’s ruling or the rulings against the bump stock ban.
Instead, the arguments against the bans have relied on the Administrative Procedures Act and the rule of lenity. A much less attention-grabbing fight to be sure. But one that has been highly successful for gun-rights advocates to this point.
The ATF rules have all involved the agency going back on previous determinations it had made in order to expand its authority to regulate different devices and parts. And they’ve all involved highly controversial interpretations of the statutes the agency claims its power is derived from. Since that combination exists in all the rules, they are all equally vulnerable to the same legal attack.
That attack centers around the claim that the ATF doesn’t have the authority to try and ban the devices in question as well as the idea that their interpretation of federal gun laws was both faulty and contradicts their earlier interpretations. That has been a winning argument so far.
“As an initial matter, it purports to allow ATF—rather than Congress—to set forth the scope of criminal prohibitions,” Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod wrote for the majority in the Fifth Circuit’s Cargill v. Garland. “Indeed, the Government would outlaw bump stocks by administrative fiat even though the very same agency routinely interpreted the ban on machineguns as not applying to the type of bump stocks at issue here. Nor can we say that the statutory definition unambiguously supports the Government’s interpretation.”
The argument is likely to continue its winning streak in the very near future as another Fifth Circuit court is set to decide what to do with President Biden’s pistol-brace ban. Oral arguments were just held in Mock v. Garland. There’s a better-than-good chance that case will also come down in favor of the plaintiffs.
After all, the panel in Mock has already issued an injunction blocking the ATF from enforcing its rule while the case moves forward. It wasn’t a nationwide injunction, but it was nearly as broad and covered members of the gun-rights group involved in the case. That injunction spawned three more from lower court judges in the circuit along the same lines.
When a court issues a preliminary injunction against a law, it only does so because it believes the plaintiffs will win on the merits. It’s possible the Biden Administration came up with new information or a brilliant argument during the trial on the merits, but it’s far more likely a decision tossing the pistol-brace ban will be handed down soon.
President Biden has lost every case against attempts to unilaterally expand the ATF’s power and institute gun control measures. Before the summer is over, all of the President’s executive actions on guns will likely be tossed.