The ban came after a sniper armed with a butt killed dozens of people in Las Vegas in 2017.
WASHINGTON — On Friday, a federal appeals court in New Orleans overturned the Trump administration’s ban on percussion stocks, devices that allow a shooter to quickly fire multiple shots from a semi-automatic weapon after the initial pull of the trigger.
The ban came after a sniper armed with a gun butt killed dozens of people in Las Vegas in 2017. Gun rights advocates have challenged it in several courts. Ruling 13-3 of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is the latest on this issue, which is likely to be decided by the Supreme Court.
This is a firearms issue that is not about the Second Amendment, but about the interpretation of federal laws. Opponents of the ban argued that percussion stocks did not fall within the definition of illegal machine guns in federal law. The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives says yes, a position currently being championed by the Biden administration.
The ban withstood the test in the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati; 10th district in Denver; and the federal district court in Washington. A three-judge panel for the 5th Circuit also ruled in favor of the ban, upholding the Texas federal judge’s lower court decision. But the entire New Orleans court voted to reopen the case. The arguments were heard on 13 September.
According to the ATF, percussion stocks use the recoil energy of a semi-automatic firearm so that the trigger “ejects and continues firing without further physical manipulation of the trigger by the shooter.” According to court records, the shooter must maintain constant forward pressure on the weapon with the non-firing hand and constant pressure on the trigger with the finger on the trigger.
The Court of Appeal in full force on Friday sided with the opponents of the ATF rule. They argued that the trigger itself fires multiple times when using a jack-butt stock, so jack-butt weapons do not qualify as machine guns under federal law. They point to wording in the law that defines a machine gun as a multiple shot with “single trigger function”.
“A simple reading of the statutory language, combined with a careful examination of the mechanics of semi-automatic firearms, shows that a buttstock is excluded from the technical definition of “machine gun” as set out in the Firearms Control Act and the National Firearms Act. Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod wrote the majority opinion.
Most of the majority also agreed that if the law is ambiguous, Congress should decide the matter under a judicial doctrine known as “leniency.”
In dissent, Judge Stephen Higginson disagreed that percussion stocks did not fall within the federal definition of machine guns. And he wrote that the majority’s interpretation of the principle of leniency was too broad. “Under majority rule, the defendant wins by default whenever the government fails to show that the law unequivocally criminalizes the defendant’s conduct,” Higginson wrote.
Richard Samp, who opposed the rule on behalf of a Texas gun owner, said he was pleased with Friday’s decision and expected it after September’s wrangling.
A lawyer who spoke for the government did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment on Friday evening.
The judges who ruled against the ban were Elrod, Priscilla Richman, Edith Jones, Jerry Smith, Carl Stewart, Leslie Southwick, Katarina Haynes, Don Willett, James Ho, Kyle Duncan, Kurt Engelhardt, Corey Wilson and Andrew Oldham. All but Stewart are Republican nominees to the Court of Appeals.
Higginson’s dissent was joined by Judges James Dennis and James Graves. The case was discussed before Judge Dana Douglas, a recent appointee of Democratic President Joe Biden, joined the 5th district.