- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Gun-rights advocates are mounting a last-gasp push to block the Trump administration’s bump-stock ban from taking effect Tuesday, saying hundreds of thousands of Americans could suddenly find themselves violating federal law absent action from the courts.

Several courts have already sided with the administration in the ongoing legal battle, leaving groups like the Firearms Policy Coalition and Gun Owners of America to hope an appeals court will step in ahead of the March 26 effective date.

“The bottom line right now is we’re trying to protect hundreds of thousands of Americans from being felons in a matter of days,” said Brandon Combs, president of the Firearms Policy Coalition.

Mr. Combs’s group will be making its case to a federal appeals court Friday in the District of Columbia.

U.S. District Judge Dabney L. Friedrich ruled last month in that case that the administration reasonably interpreted and applied the federal definition of “machine gun” to bump stock-type devices, which attach to semiautomatic weapons and let them mimic a machine gun’s rate of fire.

The Trump administration moved to impose the ban after several high-profile shootings, including the 2017 Las Vegas massacre in which a gunman used bump stocks to shoot at people attending a music festival.

He fired more than 1,000 rounds in 10 minutes, killing 58 people and injuring hundreds more.

But the Trump move is not without controversy, particularly since the Obama administration had shied away from taking the same step, saying it doubted it had the authority to do so.

Gun-rights advocates argue that the government lacks authority to reclassify the devices as machine guns and that the administration violated procedural laws in developing the new rules.

The public is generally banned from owning machine guns made after 1986, but some gun enthusiasts have used bump stocks to simulate the same rate of fire.

Mr. Combs acknowledged that the government typically prevails in the courts, but said all options remain on the table — including, potentially, an eventual appeal to the Supreme Court.

“Everything’s on the table,” he said. “We’re very aware of what our options are there’s nothing that we won’t do. There’s not going to be anything left on the table when it’s all said and done.”

The Trump administration had announced in December it would ban the devices and gave the public three months to either destroy them or hand them over to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The Justice Department justified the change from the Obama administration, saying it took a “fresh look” after the Las Vegas shooting. The department determined that the devices do essentially operate as machine guns, saying they harness recoil energy to allow continuous firing.

The government says once classified as a machine gun, the add-ons can be regulated — and they plan to begin next week.

So far, the administration’s on a winning streak.

A federal judge in Utah has blocked one man’s request to halt the ban, saying he was unlikely to win his case on the merits.

Gun Owners of America, meanwhile, has asked an appeals court to step in on a Michigan case without even waiting for the lower court judge to rule.

The emergency petition, filed this week, asks the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to block the ban from taking effect until the district court rules. The group is also asking the circuit court to stay an implementation of the final rule, pending any appeal.

The group is getting “numerous” phone calls and emails from people “frantically” asking for advice as to what they should do with their bump stocks, lawyers said in their petition.

“It appears that many gun owners have been holding out hope that a district court would issue an injunction before the deadline,” said Erich Pratt, GOA’s executive director.

The Justice Department on Wednesday filed a brief opposing the request, and pointed out that each district court that has considered a challenge to the rule has refused to grant a preliminary injunction.

Retailers are also keeping a close eye on the proceedings heading into the March 26 deadline.

RW Arms, a Texas-based company that had been promoting the devices on its website, says it stopped all sales of bump stocks at 5 p.m. Central Daylight Time on Tuesday and that it plans to fully comply with the law should the ban go into effect.

It’s not surprising that the rulings thus far have gone the administration’s way from a broader Second Amendment perspective, said Robert Spitzer, a professor at SUNY Cortland who has written extensively on the politics of gun control.

“I don’t think courts would want to be in a position of saying ‘yes, that there’s a legal right to have a bump stock,’” Mr. Spitzer said.

At the same time, he said there are legitimate questions as to whether the administration followed procedure and laid the legal groundwork for reversing course on the ban.

“Of course, the administration stubs its toe repeatedly in a number of areas where it has not followed standard procedures that are often outlined in federal rules about how you issue an administrative rule,” he said.

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