Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Fifth Circuit Court Rejects ATF's Appeal for Stay of District Court's FRT Injunction


In a series of legal setbacks for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the agency has faced another defeat regarding the regulation of forced reset triggers (FRTs). The dispute centered around the ATF's classification of the Rare Breed FRT-15 and similar devices as machine guns, which led to enforcement actions against owners of these triggers. The case, National Association for Gun Rights (NAGR) v. Merrick Garland, filed by Rare Breed Triggers and NAGR in a Texas Federal District Court, challenged this classification.

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Several individuals had faced charges under the National Firearms Act of 1934 for possessing FRTs, with potential penalties including up to ten years in prison and fines up to $250,000. However, Federal District Court Judge Reed O’Connor ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, granting a preliminary injunction and thereby halting the ATF's enforcement actions related to FRTs.

The ATF appealed this decision to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, requesting a stay on the lower court's ruling. However, the Fifth Circuit Court denied the ATF's request, maintaining the injunction and thus preventing ATF enforcement actions on the Rare Breed FRT-15. The decision cited the defendants' failure to meet the criteria for a stay.

“Defendants have fallen short of meeting their burden to justify a stay pending appeal,” The Fifth Circuit Order reads. “Their motion to stay the district court’s preliminary injunction pending appeal is therefore DENIED.”

This ruling follows the Fifth Circuit's previous decision in the Cargill case, where it was determined that the ATF exceeded its authority in classifying bump stocks as machine guns. Similarly, in the current case, Judge O’Connor, supported by the Fifth Circuit, found that FRTs do not function as machine guns. The courts scrutinized the ATF's tests and arguments, concluding that FRTs require a reset of the trigger after each shot and do not operate as machine guns, which fire continuously when the trigger is held in the rearmost position.

“As the district court noted, it is undisputed that, ‘[w]hen firing multiple shots using an FRT, the trigger must still reset after each round is fired and must separately function to release the hammer by moving far enough to the rear in order to fire the next round.’ The district court evaluated the Defendants’ zip-tie test, which Defendants argue shows that FRTs fire like machine guns,” The Circuit Court’s decision reads. ‘In a machine gun,’ the district court explained, ‘the trigger must be held in its rearmost position for the gun to fire automatically.’ The district court found that, to the contrary, if the FRT trigger is constantly held in its most rearward position, ‘the weapon would malfunction and not fire subsequent shots.’ ‘Instead, the elasticity in the zip tie allows for sufficient movement to allow for a trigger reset.’”

The series of legal challenges and defeats for the ATF in Texas suggests a pattern of the agency's overreach in its regulatory actions. While the case is ongoing, the ATF faces an uphill battle, potentially needing to escalate the issue to the Supreme Court for a favorable outcome.

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