The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on Thursday dismissed a challenge to the federal ban on bump stocks, which are designed to help make semi-automatic firearms behave more like fully automatic ones.
When attached to a semi-automatic firearm, a bump stock uses the weapon’s recoil energy after a shot is fired to “bump” the trigger back and forth against the shooter’s stationary finger, increasing the rate of fire. In October 2017, a gunman using semiautomatic rifles with bump stocks killed 58 people in Las Vegas, prompting the Trump administration to impose the following year a ban on those devices.
Specifically, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) reinterpreted the term “machinegun,” so that a 1986 ban on parts used to convert an otherwise legal firearm into an illegal machinegun now also covers bump stocks and attachments alike. The move effectively prohibits individuals from owning or selling bump stocks, and requires anyone who owns one to destroy it or turn it over to a local ATF office.
Daniel Patrick, a bump stock owner from North Carolina, filed a lawsuit in 2019 against former Acting U.S. Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who first issued the ban. Patrick alleged that Whitaker was illegitimately designated to his post by President Donald Trump, and therefore, didn’t have the authority to issue any rule, including the bump stock ban that was eventually ratified by his successor, William Barr.
In a May 27 ruling (pdf), a panel of three judges for the Fourth Circuit dismissed Patrick’s complaint, saying that his arguments are invalid because he specifically sought to challenge Whitaker’s version of the bump stock ban, which is no longer relevant.
“Patrick explicitly elected not to challenge the current version of the Rule or Attorney General Barr’s act of ratification,” the court said, adding that the alleged illegitimate appointment of Whitaker has already become irrelevant to the case when Barr took office.
The court also said Patrick failed to show that he would suffer an actual injury as result of being forced to surrender his bump stock to the AFT.
“First, Patrick’s asserted injury, being required to surrender his bump-stock device to federal authorities, is not redressable because he did not challenge Attorney General Barr’s later ratification of the Rule,” the judges’ opinion reads. “Second, Patrick’s additional claim, in which he challenges the Executive Branch’s alleged ‘ongoing policy’ of improperly appointing agency officers, is too speculative to constitute the assertion of a concrete and particularized injury.”
The Fourth Circuit’s decision comes weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up a challenge against the bump stock ban within the state of Maryland, which preceded the Trump administration’s nationwide ban. The high court did not issue a reason for not revisiting the case.