Monday, November 13, 2023

Federal Appeals Court Rejects ATF's Firearm Receiver Rule, Citing Unlawful Action

A significant legal development occurred as the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled against the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) on its contentious "Final Rule" regarding firearm receivers. The case, VanDerStok v. Garland, saw the three-judge panel, led by Circuit Judge Kurt D. Engelhardt, a Donald Trump appointee, remand the case back to the District Court for reconsideration.

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Judge Engelhardt emphasized that the ATF's rule overstepped statutory text and agency authority limits, essentially attempting to criminalize actions that were previously lawful without Congressional authorization. This action by the ATF was seen as an unlawful overreach and a direct contradiction to legislative intent.

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The Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) and other intervenors in the lawsuit welcomed the court's decision. SAF founder Alan Gottlieb celebrated the ruling as a major victory for gun owners, underscoring the ATF's overextension of its powers. SAF Executive Director Adam Kraut highlighted Judge Andrew S. Oldham's concurring opinion, which critiqued the ATF's rule as a vague and indeterminate multi-factor test that discouraged Americans from engaging in the traditional practice of crafting firearms.

In his opinion, Judge Engelhardt critiqued the ATF's attempt to assume Congressional authority in gun control matters, emphasizing that only Congress has the power to enact or modify legislation regarding firearms. He pointed out that the ATF's Final Rule unlawfully expanded the terms 'frame' and 'receiver' beyond their original 1968 meanings, including "partially complete, disassembled, or nonfunctional" items, which deviated materially from past definitions.

Judge Oldham's concurring opinion echoed these sentiments, criticizing the ATF's goal of replacing a clear rule with a vague, multi-factor test. He noted that this change would create uncertainty and act as a deterrent to law-abiding Americans and gun companies from pursuing their traditional activities due to the fear of violating the nebulous new rule.

This ruling is seen as another blow to President Joe Biden's gun control efforts, which have consistently faced legal challenges. Biden's long-standing stance on gun prohibition has been a point of contention in the firearms community, and the recent court setback adds to the series of obstacles his administration has faced in pushing its gun control agenda. As the nation moves towards 2024, the extent to which the Biden administration will continue to pursue its disarmament goals remains a subject of interest and debate.

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