ATF Rulings Not About 'Second Amendment Absolutism'

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

Ever since the Supreme Court ruled the ATF overstepped its authority in banning non-mechanical bump stocks, the left and the media (but I repeat myself) have been losing their minds over the decision.


Case in point: the editorial board of the Dallas Morning News, which claims the decision in Garland v. Cargill, as well as a district court decision partially halting enforcement of the ATF's new rule redefining who is "engaged in the business" of dealing firearms, is an exercise in "Second Amendment absolutism." 

Two court decisions last week show the levels of absurdity to which our nation’s gun debate has fallen. The logic of Second Amendment absolutism has officially turned back on itself.

Last Friday, the Supreme Court overturned a federal ban on bump stocks, granting a victory to a Texas plaintiff. Bump stocks are attachments for shoulder-fired weapons that use a gun’s recoil to repeat the action of a trigger pull, meaning a shooter doesn’t have to work his finger to squeeze the trigger for each round.

The majority opinion, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, held that since the trigger mechanism is activated with each round, bump stocks don’t make semiautomatic rifles fully automatic. The longstanding federal ban on machine guns is about the mechanisms used, not their effects. The “how” is more important than the “what.”


But the bump stock decision didn’t win last week’s judicial nonsense sweepstakes. That award goes to U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, who blocked enforcement of ATF rules that would have required background checks on gun sales at gun shows and flea markets.

That case is about who is “engaged in business” as a gun dealer. Kacsmaryk found that people who regularly buy and sell guns are hobbyists, not dealers. Sort of like how, since LeBron James makes more money from endorsements than from the L.A. Lakers, he’s a hoops hobbyist.


Despite the claims by the Dallas Morning News, neither the Supreme Court's decision striking down the ATF's ban on bump stocks nor Kacsmaryk's ruling were exercises in "Second Amendment absolutism". In fact, these cases aren't about the Second Amendment at all. Both are challenges to the ATF's rules under the Administrative Procedures Act. These are challenges to abuses of the ATF's authority, not infringements on the right to keep and bear arms. 

That's not the only blatant error in the editorial. Kacsmaryk didn't find that people who regularly buy and sell guns are hobbyists and not gun dealers. Quite the opposite. He pointed out that the federal statute defining who is engaged in the business requires the repeated buying and reselling of firearms, while the ATF's new rule is so broad that even offering a single firearm for sale could make someone an unlicensed dealer, regardless of whether the sale is completed. 

As Kacsmaryk pointed out, the federal statute also contains a "safe harbor" provision specifically protecting hobbyists. 

The term “engaged in the business” . . . shall not include a person who makes occasional sales, exchanges, or purchases of firearms for the enhancement of a personal collection or for a hobby, or who sells all or part of his personal collection of firearms[.]

If the editorial board of the Dallas Morning News has a problem with that language, they should take it up with Congress instead of putting Kacsmaryk on blast for noting the contradiction between statute and the ATF's new rule. The agency simply went too far in crafting its rule, and the judge was absolutely correct to grant an injunction. The Dallas Morning News, on the other hand, is completely off base in its criticisms. 


Sorting out who’s on whose side is becoming ever more complicated as the logic of gun rights absolutism sounds ever more like an Oprah Winfrey Show giveaway: “You get a gun! And you get a gun! And you get a gun!”

We’ve lost our way.

That last sentence is spot-on, so long as the editorial board is only referring to themselves. They've not only lost their way, they've lost the plot. 

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