Montana leads 18-state effort to overturn federal bump stock ban

Austin Knudsen filed the amicus brief in federal court last week

By: - August 9, 2021 5:50 pm

Attorney General Austin Knudsen. (Provided by the Montana Attorney General’s Office for the Daily Montanan.)

Montana’s Attorney General Austin Knudsen is arguing governmental gun-control overreach in leading an effort urging an appeals court to strike down a federal ban on bump stocks — a device that allows semiautomatic  guns to fire more rapidly.

Knudsen filed an amicus brief on behalf of Montana and 17 other states last week, asking the full 6th U.S. Court of Appeals to adopt the March opinion of a three-judge panel that ruled the bump stock ban should be struck down.

“The panel in this case came to the only logical conclusion – the ATF is trying to create laws where none exist. The full court should uphold their commonsense ruling,” Knudsen said in a press release announcing the brief.

In a 2-1 decision, the appeals court ruled in March U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney should have blocked the bump stock ban in 2019, saying Congress is responsible for changing criminal laws and bump stocks do not qualify as machine guns, which are more difficult to own the U.S.

“It is not the role of the executive—particularly the unelected administrative state—to dictate to the public what is right and what is wrong,” judges Alice Batchelder and Eric Murphy of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in their decision.

In March 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected hearing an appeal of the federal bump stock ban.

The brief was filed in the ​​Gun Owners of America v. Merrick Garland case, challenging the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives ruling that bump stocks are illegal.

Montana, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming signed on to the brief. All states are represented by their Republican attorneys general.

“The ATF’s Final Rule effectively transforms commonly owned firearms into banned machine guns simply because of the use of non-mechanical bump stock accessories. This interpretation categorically expands the text of the criminal statute in a way that Congress couldn’t possibly have intended,” the brief said.

A volunteer with the Montana Chapter of Moms Demand Action criticized Knudsen for supporting overturning the ban.

“The Attorney General’s support of overturning the ban on bump stocks is not only irresponsible and dangerous, but disrespectful to the thousands of gun violence survivors in our state,” said Kiely Lammers, a volunteer with the Montana chapter of Moms Demand Action in an email. “Firearms with bump stocks have no other purpose than to be utilized as weapons of war. Attorney General Knudsen’s support for overturning this ban while our state is facing a gun violence crisis only shows that he is more concerned about his standing with the gun lobby than the protecting lives of his constituents.”

Since taking office, Knudsen has led or joined amicus briefs in seven firearms-related cases, according to the press release. Despite his efforts to loosen gun control restrictions, stricter gun control measures have received broad support.

An NPR-Ipsos poll from 2017 found 82 percent of respondents favored a bump stock ban. More recently, a Morning Consult-Politico tracking poll found 64 percent of registered voters at least somewhat supported stricter gun control measures.

Bump stocks, often used with AR-15 semiautomatic rifles, became a focal point of the gun control debate after the historic 2017 Las Vegas shooting that killed 58 people and injured hundreds more. The gunman in the shooting had 23 assault-style weapons, including 14 with bump stocks in his hotel room. Using bump stocks gave the gunman an increased ability to rapidly fire his weapon, allowing for about 90 shots in ten seconds. While sales of bump stocks are not tracked, it is estimated hundreds of thousands of them have been sold.

After the Las Vegas shooting, former President Donald Trump issued a federal ban on bump stocks, making it illegal to possess them. The ban overturned a 2010 Obama-era decision by the ATF that found bump stocks did not equate to machine guns and could not be regulated without Congress changing existing firearms law or passing a new law.

The brief argues on the side of the 2010 ruling that bump stocks do not turn guns into machine guns.

“Bump-stocks are accessories. They are not firearms and are not regulated by the [National Firearms Act]. Nor do they somehow transform standard semiautomatic firearms into machine guns under the NFA … And even when utilizing bump stock accessories, semiautomatic rifles remain just semiautomatic rifles,” the brief said.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the legality of machine guns in the United States.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Keith Schubert
Keith Schubert

Keith Schubert was born and raised in Wisconsin and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2019. He has worked at the St.Paul Pioneer Press, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and most recently, the Asbury Park Press, covering everything from local craft fairs to crime and courts to municipal government to the Minnesota state legislature. In his free time, he enjoys cheering on Wisconsin sports teams and exploring small businesses. Keith is no longer a reporter with the Daily Montanan.