Thursday, September 21, 2023

Federal Judge Issues New Injunctions Against ATF’s Rule on Frames and Receivers

On a recent Friday, Judge Reed O'Connor of the Federal District Court renewed preliminary injunctions barring the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) from applying the Final Rule 2021R-05F on frames and receivers to two specific companies. 

These companies, Defense Distributed, renowned for their Ghost Gunner, and Blackhawk Manufacturing Group, also known as 80 Percent Arms, are protected under this injunction in the ongoing Texas-based case, Vanderstok v. Garland, which has been pivotal in the dispute regarding incomplete frames and receivers for over a year.

In 2021, the ATF was instructed by President Joe Biden to formulate regulations to address the issue of "ghost guns". These unserialized frames are considered by the president and likeminded individuals as instruments for criminals, while within firearm circles, privately manufactured firearms (PMF) are regarded as part of historical and traditional practices.

Despite the controversy, the ATF proceeded to develop a regulation prohibiting the sale of frames and jigs together, following a series of lawsuits opposing the rule, which many argue surpasses the ATF’s legal bounds. During this period, numerous entities, including the Firearms Policy Coalition, initiated legal actions against the ATF rule in Texas.

However, groups opposing gun rights argued that the measures by the ATF were insufficient, prompting them to call for a total ban on unfinished frames and receivers. Eventually, the ATF broadened its regulation on December 27, 2022, deeming all unfinished frames as firearms henceforth.

Despite this expansion, their victory was brief, as Judge O’Connor played a pivotal role in undermining the new rule. This action protected many other companies under the injunction, including major kit manufacturer, Polymer80. The entire rule was eventually revoked by the Judge.

Subsequent to this revocation, the Department of Justice (DOJ) appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, with the majority of the rule remaining revoked post arguments. The DOJ then sought the intervention of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) through a writ of certiorari, while also seeking to pause the court’s decision to revoke the rule until SCOTUS reached a verdict.

This ongoing legal tussle prompted Defense Distributed and 80 Percent Arms to apply for a new emergency preliminary injunction against the Final Rule, which was granted by Judge O’Connor, once again offering the companies respite from ATF enforcement actions. 

Judge O'Connor’s decision is grounded in his belief that the rule infringes the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) and goes beyond the ATF’s jurisdiction. The government is expected to contest this, and it appears that the final hope for the Biden Administration to uphold the rule is with the Supreme Court.

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