- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 19, 2016

A federal appeals court agreed Wednesday that the Second Amendment doesn’t allow U.S. citizens to own machine guns, rejecting once again a claim brought by a Pennsylvania man who unsuccessfully attempted to acquire a military-style firearm by registering it through his family trust.

Ryan Watson first sued the U.S. government in 2014 after his application for a M-16-style machine gun was accidentally approved by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives before being rescinded one month later.

Mr. Watson had filed the application with the ATF through the Watson Family Gun trust and argued in his subsequent lawsuit that existing statutes say nothing prohibiting “unincorporated trusts” from acquiring machine guns that are otherwise barred for civilian use under the federal Gun Control Act.

The District Court for the Eastern District in Pennsylvania agreed with the government to dismiss the suit in July 2015, and a three-judge panel of the 3rd Circuit in Philadelphia affirmed that ruling on Wednesday.

Contrary to Mr. Watson’s claims, the appeals panel said no existing law can be construed to allow private citizens to possess machine guns by registering the weapons through a trust.

“The Gun Control Act defines a person as ‘any individual, company, association, firm, partnership, society or joint stock company,’ ” the appeals court acknowledged in Wednesday’s ruling. “As Watson notes, a ‘trust’ is not one of the listed entities. However, this does not mean that a trust is therefore entitled to possess a machine gun.”

“As the District Court stated, a trust is not an entity distinct from its trustees, nor is it capable of legal action on its own behalf,” the appeals court continued.

“Indeed, Watson himself does not dispute that he is the ‘individual human being’ seeking to possess a gun on behalf of the Trust. He argues, however, that because trusts are not ‘persons’ under the statute, he may act on behalf of the Trust in his capacity as a trustee without triggering the prohibition on natural persons transferring or possessing a machine gun.”

Despite that argument, the appeals panel said that “nothing in the Gun Control Act supports such a reading” as interpreted by Mr. Watson.

“Irrespective of whether Watson is a trustee, he is also a natural person and therefore prohibited from performing any of the acts forbidden of natural persons under the Gun Control Act. His inability to comply with the Gun Control Act, in turn, prevents ATF from granting his application under the National Firearms Act,” the ruling continued.

“Interpreting the statute so as to include this exception would thereby swallow the rule. We refuse to conclude that with one hand Congress intended to enact a statutory rule that would restrict the transfer or possession of certain firearms, but with the other hand it created an exception that would destroy that very rule,” the appeals panel opined.

Attorneys for Mr. Watson did not immediately respond to The Washington Times’ requests for comment.

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