Gun Laws & Legislation

Bump Stocks Are Not Machine Guns And They Never Were

George Frey/Getty Images

Guns and Gear Contributor
Font Size:

By Aidan Johnston, Gun Owners Of America

Gun owners across the country are celebrating our victory in Gun Owners of America v. Garland!

What Just Happened?

For two years, numerous parties have challenged ATF’s bump stock ban in federal courts around the country but have been uniformly unsuccessful.

Previously, the courts denied GOA’s motion for a preliminary injunction to prevent the ATF from implementing a final rule incorrectly classifying bump stocks as machine guns under federal law.

All of that just changed with yesterday’s ruling in Gun Owners of America v. Garland.

On Thursday March 25th 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed the lower district court’s decision—ruling that both (1) bump stocks are NOT machine guns and (2) Chevron doctrine does not apply in criminal cases.

These holdings have major applications both for the Second Amendment and Administrative Case Law.

History of Gun Owners of America v. Garland

On December 26, of 2018, the ATF promulgated an arbitrary and capricious rule that classified bump stocks as machine guns.

This was a reversal of the ATF’s longstanding position that bump stocks were not machine guns.

ATF’s reversal also threatened to turn hundreds of thousands of law-abiding Americans into criminals with the stroke of a pen.

Gun Owners of America filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to prevent gun owners from being forced to needlessly destroy their bump stocks.

This case was brought by Gun Owners of America and Gun Owners Foundation alongside the Virginia Citizens Defense League, Matt Watkins, Tim Harmsen of the Military Arms Channel, and GOA’s Texas Director, Rachel Malone.

Unfortunately, the district court sided with the ATF and held that the Final Rule’s classification of bump stocks as machine guns was “a permissible interpretation” of federal law.

The lower court concluded that GOA was unlikely to “succeed on the merits” of our case and denied our preliminary injunction.

But a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit just overruled the lower court.

A two-judge majority of the panel said that the ATF’s Final Rule is NOT the best interpretation of the United states code.

Bump stocks are not machine guns and Chevron deference does not apply.

As of now, bump stocks are not yet legal.

The 6th Circuit panel has ordered the case back to the lower court with instructions to stop ATF overreach.

Now our attorneys must fight over the scope of the injunction.

Bump stocks could become legal in the four states within the Sixth Circuit (Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee). If the ruling is applied to all plaintiffs, it might even include members of Gun Owners of America nationwide. Please stay tuned for further updates.

Immediate Second Amendment Implications

We are glad the court of appeals applied the statute accurately and struck down the ATF’s illegal overreach and infringement of gun owners’ rights.

This means that for the first time, anywhere in the entire country, a court has sided with a pro-gun organization against the ATF on its bump stock ruling which classified bump stocks as machine guns.

Contrary to what the ATF claims: bump stocks are not machine guns.

A semi-automatic firearm, even one with a bump stock attached, still requires the trigger to be pressed – then released – then pressed again to fire an additional cartridge. By comparison, a machine gun will keep firing as long as the trigger is depressed or until the ammunition supply is exhausted.

Indeed, for ten years, the ATF said repeatedly that bump stocks are not machine guns under federal law.

But then the agency reversed course and said that a piece of plastic with no moving parts is a machine gun. If the ATF can do that — with a magic wave of the wand — then it can say anything is a machine gun.

Far-Reaching Administrative Law Implications

The circuit courts are now split on both the definition of a machine gun and whether the Chevron doctrine can be applied to bureaucratic actions in criminal cases.

Rep. Thomas Massie explained the repercussions of GOA’s victory,

“This decision has big implications beyond the field of guns. A court ruled that Congress makes criminal law — administrative agencies do not.”

It is also critical that judges in today’s ruling chided the ATF for their “frequent reversals on major policy issues.”

A circuit split on whether the major court-made Chevron doctrine can be used to infringe upon Second Amendment rights is no small matter.

Invitation to Stand with GOA

Some might wonder why GOA fought so hard on bump stocks this entire time. The issue is simple.

It. Was. Never. About. Bump. Stocks.


Two years ago, GOA understood the far-reaching implications of using the ATF to circumvent Congress and arbitrarily enforce gun control by regulating a non-firearm as a machine gun.

This 6th Circuit precedent could help GOA prevent further arbitrary bans of firearms and accessories by the Biden Administration or any future rogue administration.

We strongly urge you to stand by this strong pro-Second Amendment court ruling.

Gun owners are desperate for good news, and this is the ruling they have needed and deserved for two long years.

We may now have the key to fighting back against the Biden Administration’s arbitrary anti-gun agenda.

Aidan Johnston is a former bump stock owner and the Director of Federal Affairs for Gun Owners of America, a nonprofit grassroots lobbying organization dedicated to protecting the right to keep and bear arms without compromise. You can follow Aidan on Twitter @RealGunLobbyist. GOA represents over two million members and activists, and can be found at Click here to join Gun Owners of America.