In a case called VanDerStok v. Garland, which challenges the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) so-called “ghost gun” rule that treats some firearms parts and part kits as if they are actually functional firearms, a federal judge determined that the final rule is unlawful.
U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor, a George W. Bush appointee who handed down the decision on June 30, noted in his lengthy ruling that the government agencies simply do not have regulatory power over firearms parts, regardless of the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) apparent belief that it does possess such authority (the DOJ oversees the ATF).
“[T]he Gun Control Act’s precise wording demands precise application,” the court wrote. “Congress could have described a firearm as ‘any combination of parts’ that would produce a weapon that could fire a projectile. It used that language elsewhere in the definition. Congress could have described a firearm as any part ‘designed’ to be part of a weapon. It used that language, too. Congress could have described a firearm as a set of parts that ‘may be readily assembled’ into a weapon, as it did for ‘destructive device.’
“Congress could have written all those things, and the very definition of ‘firearm’ demonstrates that Congress knew the words that would accomplish those ends. But Congress did not regulate firearm parts as such, let alone aggregations of parts that are ‘designed to or may readily be completed, assembled, restored, or otherwise converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive.’ Accordingly, the Final Rule’s attempt to regulate weapon parts kits lacks statutory support.”
Consequently, the court explained, the ATF’s decision to enforce this final rule is an overreach of authority.
“Because the Final Rule purports to regulate both firearm components that are not yet a ‘frame or receiver’ and aggregations of weapon parts not otherwise subject to its statutory authority, the Court holds that the ATF has acted in excess of its statutory jurisdiction by promulgating it,” the court wrote.
Further, the court decision stated that the DOJ’s claims that it had previously taken action against firearms components only shows that this isn’t the first time it has overstepped its legal authority on the matter.
“If these administrative records show, as Defendants contend, that ATF has previously regulated components that are not yet frames or receivers but could readily be converted into such items, then the historical practice does nothing more than confirm that the agency has, perhaps in multiple specific instances over several decades, exceeded the lawful bounds of its statutory jurisdiction,” the court wrote. “That the agency may have historically acted [beyond its legal authority] does not convince the Court it should be permitted to continue the practice.”
The court determined the final rule exceeded the scope of ATF authority and struck it down.
“Because the Court concludes that the government cannot regulate those items without violating federal law, the Court holds that the government’s recently enacted Final Rule, Definition of ‘Frame or Receiver’ and Identification of Firearms, 87 Fed. Reg. 24,652, is unlawful agency action taken in excess of the ATF’s statutory jurisdiction,” the decision stated. “On this basis, the Court vacates the Final Rule.”
The Justice Department will likely appeal the ruling, although no announcement had been made at the time of publication.