Maryland gun rights group fights battle on bump stocks

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

The bump stock ban is one of the more shameful episodes of gun control in American history. It’s a perversion of the law as written, done exclusively for political expediency, and anyone with any intellectual honesty and an understanding of the law in question will admit it.

Yet, the ban stands, as of right now.

In Maryland, a gun rights group is challenging a bump stock ban, not to get the stocks back but to get compensation for them.

In papers filed with the Supreme Court last week, Maryland Shall Issue urged the justices to hear a claim by other gun rights advocates that a similar federal ban on rapid-fire trigger activators amounted to a governmental “taking” of personal property for which their formerly lawful owners are owed “just compensation” under the U.S. Constitution.

MSI’s filing came 15 months after the justices declined without comment to hear the group’s appeal of a 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that Maryland owes no compensation because the state had not put the “taken” property – activators – toward a public use, such as constructing a school, hospital or road. With its ban, Maryland sought to destroy the activators – not put them to use – the 4th Circuit stated in its 2-1 decision in June 2020.

In the case now pending at the Supreme Court, gun rights advocates from other states are challenging a lower court ruling that the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF, similarly owes no compensation for its bump stock ban. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit said ATF’s action was not a “taking” because the ban was in keeping with the government’s existing authority to prohibit machine guns.

In support of its fellow advocates, MSI told the Supreme Court that the 4th and Federal circuits were wrong to treat the compelled surrender of previously lawfully possessed property as something other than a taking for which compensation is owed.

“In short, appropriations of personal property are per se takings no less than appropriations of real property,” MSI President Mark W. Pennak, an attorney, wrote in the group’s brief. “That the property was legally acquired and possessed prior to the issuance of the ATF rule is dispositive.”

Now, understand that I don’t actually agree with this particular tactic. Arguing over compensation is akin to accepting that the ruling was, in fact, consistent with the legal definition of a machine gun, which it isn’t.

That is the real battleground, in my opinion, and it’s where the fight on bump stocks should really be taking place.

However, if we’re going to be forced to accept the bump stock ban, then yes, the compelled surrender of an item bought in compliance with all laws as understood at that time should warrant some form of compensation. Saying that it doesn’t because the sudden shift in rulings – remember, the ATF previously ruled that bump stocks were not machine guns – falls under a specific law is nonsense.

Had the ATF issued its initial ruling that bump stocks were essentially machine guns, then demanded any existing one be turned in, that might have made sense.

Instead, thousands of people bought these stocks in good faith, accepting from the ATF that these were lawful, only to have that ruling changed not because of new information or a change in the design of the item but because it became politically expedient to do so.

As such, compensation is certainly warranted.

But, as I said previously, compensation is the least of my issues with the bump stock ban. After all, the ban never should have happened.