Amicus Brief: Garland v. Cargill
In the aftermath of the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting, the Trump-era Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) adopted a rule criminalizing the possession of bump stocks by expanding the statutory definition of “machinegun” to include these devices. Bump stocks are gun stocks that can be used to assist in using the recoil of a semi-automatic firearm to fire ammunition in rapid succession. Michael Cargill lawfully purchased two bump stocks before ATF’s 2018 adoption of its expanded definition. He surrendered his bump stocks to comply with the ATF rule, then filed a lawsuit challenging it on statutory grounds. The en banc Fifth Circuit voted 13-3 to invalidate the rule, with eight judges agreeing with Cargill that bump stocks did not fall under the definition of “machinegun” and ATF can’t arbitrarily change the law; five others finding the statute was ambiguous, but that they must rule for Cargill under the rule of lenity (the idea that, when a statute is ambiguous, courts must find for a criminal defendant). The federal government appealed to the Supreme Court. The Manhattan Institute worked with lawyers from the Boyden Gray firm to build on Ilya Shapiro’s past related work and file an amicus brief arguing that Chevron (judicial deference to an agency’s statutory interpretation) does not apply, given the political impetus for ATF’s new rule, the unknowable bounds of such expansive deference, and the general, non-expert nature of the government’s brief. MI’s involvement affirms our long and nonpartisan record of challenging unconstitutional government overreach.
Tim Rosenberger is a legal fellow at the Manhattan Institute.
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