Judge Reed O’Connor struck another blow against the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) ever-expanding power, what many in the gun community call its abuse of power. The federal district court judge for the Northern District of Texas issued a preliminary injunction against the ATF’s classification of forced reset triggers (FRT) as machine guns.
The case, National Association for Gun Rights v. Garland, challenged the ATF’s assertion that the Rare Breed FRT-15 trigger is a drop in auto sear (DIAS).
The lawsuit was brought by Rare Breed Triggers, the National Association for Gun Rights (NAGR), and several private citizens against Attorney General Merrick Garland for the actions of the ATF surrounding the Rare Breed Triggers FRT-15. The Bureau has been going door to door to confiscate the triggers from gun owners. According to court documents, at least three citizens have been charged with violating the National Firearms Act (NFA) for having the triggers.
District Court Judge O’Connor ruled that since the ATF has been “chomping at the bit” to prosecute those with force reset triggers and has refused to hold off prosecution until the court case is settled, the plaintiffs have a real fear of civil and criminal repercussions. Because the judge felt the plaintiff’s fear was real, Judge O’Connor ruled that the plaintiffs had standing and would suffer irreparable harm if a preliminary injunction wasn’t issued.
The ATF’s refusal to back down handed the plaintiffs irreparable harm and standing on a silver platter.
“Plaintiffs face a credible threat of civil or criminal prosecution if they acquire additional forced reset triggers. The ATF has repeatedly claimed that forced reset triggers are machine guns. DOJ has brought criminal charges against individuals for possessing forced reset triggers and civil proceedings against companies that manufacture and sell forced reset triggers. The ATF has sent letters and had agents visit individuals—including Plaintiff Carey—threatening potential civil or criminal action,” the judge wrote.
The judge also ruled that the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of the case. Judge O’Connor ruled that the ATF’s expansion of its authority in dealing with what is and what isn’t a machine gun was arbitrary and capricious. He also ruled that the NFA is unambiguous when defining a machine gun.
The judge said a machine gun must expel multiple rounds automatically with a single function of the trigger. He highlighted that the ATF tried changing “single function” to “single trigger pull.” Judge O’Connor also explained that the FRT-15 does not fire automatically. The judge said the ATF does not have the power to change the definition of a machine gun as Congress defined it, and only Congress can change it.
The Judge referenced the Cargil v. Garland case in his decision. That case dealt with bump stocks. The Fifth Circuit en banc ruled that the ATF overstepped its authority when ruling that bump stocks were machine guns. The government has appealed the case to the Supreme Court of The United States (SCOTUS). Most legal scholars believe that SCOTUS will grant cert in the case since there is now a circuit split.
The ATF has been enjoined from taking enforcement actions, sending letters to compel owners to give up their triggers, and destroying any triggers it has recovered.
Now that a preliminary injunction has been issued, the merits of the case can be argued in front of the judge, although it is believed that the government will ask the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals for a stay on the injunction.
About John Crump