This past Friday, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals released a 62-page decision on Cargill v. Garland, striking down the Trump administration’s 2018 ban on bump-fire stocks. Second Amendment activists across the country are rejoicing because of this significant victory and are preparing for the case to work its way farther up in the court system, possibly even to the U.S. Supreme Court. While I agree that it is a significant victory over government overreach, I don’t feel the same sense of happiness at seeing this decision passed down. Frankly, I’m still upset that this had to happen to begin with.
I clearly remember the adulation people heaped on Donald Trump as a defender of individual liberties despite his administration’s actions to the contrary. Even after he was quoted as saying “I like taking the guns early… Take the guns first, due process second,” in early 2018, his most ardent defenders refused to admit that he presented a threat to our rights. They insisted that he didn’t really say that; and if he did, he didn’t really mean it; and even if he did, he wasn’t going to do anything; and even if he did it wasn’t a big deal. The Fudds’ refrain went something like, “let them fight it out in the courts;” eerily reminiscent of the “let them eat cake” misattributed to Marie Antoinette on the eve of the French Revolution. Well, they were wrong, and until Friday, we suffered from the consequences of their blindness.
I never owned a bump-fire stock. Personally, I think they’re a dumb gimmick, along with binary and forced-reset triggers—probably a fun range toy, but a waste of money and ammunition. Their real value, in my opinion, is as a workaround to the NFA and a finger in the eye of gun control. If the government wants to take away our ability to own certain types of firearms, enterprising engineers will always invent ways to achieve similar results while following the letter of the law. Mechanically, a bump-fire stock is an inert chunk of plastic; it only facilitates the technique of bump-firing, which is already possible with most semi-automatic firearms.
When Trump and his administration began moving to ban bump-fire stocks, I tried to spread the word to anyone who would listen about how stupid that would be. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (BATFE or ATF) already had a long history of arbitrarily interpreting and re-interpreting the laws it is tasked to enforce, so if it could re-define a hollow piece of injection-molded plastic as a machine gun, there could be no end to their overreach. These fears, founded in historical fact, were dismissed as unreasonable. The Fudd-logic rebuttal was that nobody should own a bump-fire stock anyway, and that anyone really concerned about the issue should just “let them fight it out in the courts.” Again, “let them eat cake.”
Trump’s Department of Justice released what’s called a “final rule” on December 18th, 2018, which re-interprets existing Federal law to reclassify bump-fire stocks as machine guns. The President and a gang of bureaucrats effectively made new law without going through Congress first, and they got away with it. Of course, Second Amendment advocacy organizations immediately took the administration to court over this egregious overreach, and the rest of us have spent the past four years fighting the pervasive media narrative that bump-fire stocks supposedly “turn a rifle into a machine gun.” All the while, as our side suffered failure after failure, we’ve tried to change the minds of those ostensibly on our side who are willing to sit back and “let them fight it out in the courts.”
Here we stand, four years later, with the Fifth Circuit’s ruling in one hand and our hard-earned cake in the other. We’ve had a victory, yes, but the war over our rights will continue long into the future. Now, to those who back in 2018 said we should just give up and “let them fight it out in the courts,” I wish to offer a rebuttal: is that where we are as a society? Have we become so apathetic that we’re willing to have our rights taken away at the stroke of a pen by unelected bureaucrats, only to get them back after four years and millions of dollars in legal fees? This should serve as a wake-up call for anyone who wasn’t already aware of this problem. Until we do something about it, the abuses of procedure will continue, and the Federal government will continue using executive orders and aggressive re-interpretations to whittle away at our freedom.