The firearms landscape in the United States has always been a hotbed of legal and political action, and the recent lawsuit by the National Association for Gun Rights (NAGR) and Texas Gun Rights, Inc. (TGR) against the US Department of Justice showcases this continuing trend.
At the heart of the issue is the ATF’s classification of firearms equipped with forced reset triggers as “machineguns” under the National Firearms Act (NFA) of 1934. NAGR, TGR, and several individual plaintiffs have accused the Justice Department of making arbitrary and potentially unlawful efforts to misclassify these firearms. They argue that the department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) based its rule on a misinterpreted definition of a machine gun.
This isn’t the first time the ATF’s definitions have come under scrutiny. Earlier in the year, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit struck down the ATF’s expanded definition of “machinegun” in relation to the Trump administration’s bump-stock ban. The court’s decision highlighted that the ATF had overstepped its statutory authority.
Interestingly, the ATF’s open letter on forced reset triggers was issued in March 2022, before the Fifth Circuit’s groundbreaking ruling. Plaintiffs in the current lawsuit allege that the department still clings to its old rationale, even in light of the ruling, when classifying forced reset triggers.
Diving deeper into the definitions at play, the ATF claims that forced reset triggers enable a subsequent shot without the user releasing the gun’s trigger, hence fitting the “machinegun” definition. This functionality, the ATF asserts, differentiates them from other aftermarket triggers which necessitate a trigger release before firing again.
However, the plaintiffs believe there’s a crucial misinterpretation here. Their contention is that the ATF’s interpretation focuses wrongly on the action of the shooter’s trigger finger instead of the intrinsic reset mechanism of the trigger. They argue that the NFA concerns itself with the “single function of the trigger”, not the user’s finger movements. Citing the recent Fifth Circuit’s decision, the complaint emphasizes that Congress, had it intended otherwise, would have used different phrasing in the law.
While the Department of Justice has yet to respond, the ramifications of this lawsuit are significant. Should the court rule in the plaintiffs’ favor, it could not only reshape ATF policies on firearm classification but also necessitate compensation for those who’ve had their devices confiscated under the contested rule.
Furthermore, the outcome could have a lasting impact on the broader gun rights discourse in the country. A decision favoring NAGR and TGR would be hailed as a triumph for Second Amendment proponents, while one supporting the DOJ would bolster the arguments of gun control advocates.
As the legal proceedings unfold, it’s clear that this lawsuit will be more than just a courtroom battle. It’s a confrontation between evolving firearm technology, legislative interpretations, and the ever-passionate debate on gun rights in America.