(The Epoch Times)—Restrictions imposed by President Joe Biden’s administration on so-called ghost guns are illegal, a federal appeals court ruled on Nov. 9.
The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), an Executive Branch agency that promulgated the rule containing the restrictions in 2022 with President Biden’s support, overstepped its authority, according to a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.
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“The agency rule at issue here flouts clear statutory text and exceeds the legislatively-imposed limits on agency authority in the name of public policy,” U.S. Circuit Judge Kurt Engelhardt wrote in the ruling. “Because Congress has neither authorized the expansion of firearm regulation nor permitted the criminalization of previously lawful conduct, the proposed rule constitutes unlawful agency action, in direct contravention of the legislature’s will.”
The ATF declined to comment. The White House and the U.S. Department of Justice did not respond to queries.
The regulation required that sellers of kits that could be made into guns run background checks before selling them.
It also implemented requirements for putting serial numbers on kits and placing the numbers on already-erected “ghost guns.”
So-called ghost guns refer to guns that can be made in private from kits, lacking serial numbers. Critics say the guns pose a problem because they cannot be traced.
“Buyers aren’t required to pass background checks. Because guns have no serial numbers—these guns—when they show up at a crime scene, they can’t be traced,” President Biden said when announcing the new rule. “Harder to find and prove who used them. Meaning you can’t connect the gun to the shooter and hold them accountable.”
Gun owners and groups said shortly after the restrictions went into effect that they were illegal because the Executive Branch does not have the authority to impose new regulations without approval by Congress.
“Congress also did not give the Agencies the authority to regulate the broad array of materials that may, at some point in the future, be manufactured into firearms by private individual,” the suit stated.
U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor ruled twice in favor of plaintiffs, finding that the ATF changed the definition of, among other terms, “frame or receiver” as outlined in the Gun Control Act of 1968 from its longstanding interpretation.
The changed definition enabled authorities to regulate parts that had not yet become guns, which strayed from the careful definitions in the law, Judge O’Connor said. The ATF’s redefinition, he said, “conflicts with the statute’s plain meaning.”
Starting in 1978, the ATF defined a “frame or receiver” as “That part of a firearm which provides housing for the hammer, bolt or breechblock, and firing mechanism, and which is usually threaded at its forward portion to receive the barrel.”
The redefinition held that the terms “shall include a partially complete, disassembled, or nonfunctional frame or receiver, including a frame or receiver parts kit, that is designed to or may readily be completed, assembled, restored, or otherwise converted to function as a frame or receiver, i.e., to house or provide a structure for the primary energized component of a handgun, breech blocking or sealing component of a projectile weapon other than a handgun.”
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Congress did not include a definition for “frame or receiver,” meaning the words retain their common meaning, and that the ATF “cannot add … language where Congress did not intend it to exist,” Judge Engelhardt said in the new ruling.
“There is also a clear logical flaw in ATF’s proposal. As written, the final rule states that the phrase ‘frame or receiver’ includes things that are admittedly not yet frames or receivers but that can easily become frames or receivers—in other words: parts,” he added. “Such a proposition defies logic: ‘a part cannot be both not yet a receiver and a receiver at the same time.'”
In a concurring opinion, U.S. Circuit Judge Andrew Oldham said that the new restrictions replaced “a clear, brightline rule with a vague, indeterminate, multi-factor balancing test,” which resulted in a “new uncertainty” that “will act like a Sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of American gun owners.”
U.S. Circuit Judge Don Willett joined with his colleagues, making the ruling unanimous.
“We are elated with this unanimous court ruling,” Alan Gottlieb, founder and executive vice president of the Second Amendment Foundation, which is one of the plaintiffs, said in a statement. “The ATF clearly exceeded its authority. This is a major victory for gun owners and the rule of law.”
All three judges were appointed by former President Donald Trump.
Judge O’Connor was appointed by former President George W. Bush.