NCLA: The Bump Stock Buck Must Stop with Congress, Not the President

WASHINGTON, DC, Jan. 17, 2019 -- Firearms instructor W. Clark Aposhian of Utah is a law-abiding citizen, but under the "Bump-Stock-Type Devices" Final Rule, on March 26th, he will become a felon subject to a 10-year prison sentence unless he destroys or surrenders his Slide Fire bump-stock device. The same is true for owners of the estimated 520,000 other bump-stock devices legally acquired over the last decade.

The New Civil Liberties Alliance filed a Complaint against Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Acting Director Thomas Brandon of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), and the ATF itself. The Complaint filed on behalf of Aposhian, would bar enforcement of the "Bump-Stock-Type Devices" Final Rule against him and similarly situated individuals in the District of Utah. NCLA also filed a request for a Preliminary Injunction today which seeks to stop the ban from coming into effect as scheduled.

Congress has never acted to outlaw these devices. In fact, as Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) recently stated, "Until March 2018, ATF maintained that bump stocks could not be banned through administrative action." She also recognized that "Legislation is necessary" or any ban will not be "protected from legal challenges."

NCLA wholeheartedly agrees with Mr. Aposhian that DOJ has no constitutional or statutory authority to create new criminal laws. NCLA takes no position on bump-stock devices, as we proclaim no expertise on the various policy reasons given for banning them. But the wisdom of the policy is irrelevant to the impropriety of actions taken by DOJ and ATF. NCLA has brought this lawsuit to ensure that our nation's administrative agencies operate constitutionally, and that Congress takes responsibility for lawmaking.

"However well-intentioned, neither the President nor his Department of Justice can act by executive fiat to change the law. Congress—and only Congress—can convert lawful activity into unlawful activity. In this case, Congress has never prohibited the possession of bump-stock devices by statute, so this rule violates the Constitution." 
—Caleb Kruckenberg, Litigation Counsel, NCLA

"The Constitution does not allow lawmaking by shortcut. New criminal laws must be passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law by the President. That did not happen here. If the courts permit the Attorney General to get away with passing this rule, which turns half a million Americans into felons overnight, via a pathway that is not in the Constitution, nothing will stop a rogue attorney general from turning millions more law-abiding citizens into felons in the future."
—Steve Simpson, Senior Litigation Counsel, NCLA

About NCLA
NCLA is a nonprofit civil rights organization founded by prominent legal scholar Philip Hamburger to protect constitutional freedoms from violations by the administrative state. NCLA's public-interest litigation and other pro bono advocacy strive to tame the unchecked power of state and federal agencies and to foster a new civil liberties movement that will help restore Americans' fundamental rights. For more information visit us online: NCLAlegal.org

Media Inquiries: Please contact Judy Pino, 202-869-5218 or email Judy.Pino@NCLA.legal