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Attorney General Knudsen leads 18-state coalition against overreaching federal firearm accessory ban

Attorney General Austin Knudsen is again leading the charge in defense of Montanans’ right to keep and bear arms against federal overreach. Seventeen other state attorneys general signed onto Knudsen’s amicus brief filed late yesterday in the Gun Owners of America v. Merrick Garland case, against the of erroneous rulemaking from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) that criminalized bump stock accessories.

The ATF’s Final Rule on Bump-Stock-Type Devices contravened federal law – as well as longstanding ATF policy – when it informed owners of bump stocks that they must surrender or destroy their bump stocks to avoid criminal liability.  A United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit panel rightly ruled against the ATF in March. Knudsen and the coalition of attorneys general are now urging the full court to do the same.

“Montanans’ right to keep and bear arms is under attack from the Biden administration. Their continued attempts to implement the bump stock ban is no exception,” Attorney General Knudsen said. “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.”

Through its rulemaking, the ATF overreached and attempted to regulate bump stock accessories by asserting they transform the firearms they are attached to into “machineguns” as defined by the National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA).

“The ATF’s Final Rule effectively transforms commonly owned firearms into banned machineguns 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 states. “But it also expands criminal liability at the expense of Second Amendment rights, diminishing the latter absent a sufficient and compelling justification.  Surely the federal agency tasked with regulating Second Amendment rights should read its enforcement statutes narrowly.  But when the ATF—or any agency—invades protected rights by interpreting statutes too broadly, ‘a court has an obligation to correct its error.’”

The ATF’s bump stock rule is an attempt to contravene Congress and rewrite a statute with no evidence that Congress intended such an interpretation. The ATF itself recognized that “bump-firing” has been around for as long as there have been semiautomatic firearms and that common items such as rubber bands, belt loops, and shoestrings can all be used to the same effect as the accessory they are attempting to criminalize.

“While Congress sometimes delegates authority to federal agencies to fill in gaps or lend expertise in complicated matters, these agencies are not permitted to use their limited policymaking authority to invent new law – particularly when their decisions impose criminal penalties and implicated fundamental constitutional rights,” the brief stated. “Agencies’ sweeping statutory re-interpretations should always arouse judicial suspicion, but capricious course changes that criminalize previously lawful and constitutionally protected behavior should have to endure the cold light of judicial scrutiny.”

Click here to read the full brief.

Attorneys general from Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming also signed on in support.

In his first seven months in office, Attorney General Knudsen has been a stalwart defender of Montanans’ gun rights and the Second Amendment. He has led or joined amicus briefs in seven firearms-related cases, is leading opposition to President Biden’s anti-gun lobbyist nominee to lead the ATF, and is fighting attempts to overturn new state law that expanded Montanans’ gun rights.