When the Founding Fathers decided on the nature of our government, the last thing they wanted was another king. They’d just fought a war against someone they perceived to be a tyrant. There was no reason to lay the groundwork for another.
They wanted the office of the president to be quite different.
Unfortunately, what they wanted and what we have isn’t exactly one and the same.
Thanks to a number of factors, the executive branch of government has a lot more authority than it should. That’s especially true when it comes to guns.
Over at Reason, Jacob Sullum takes issue with the history of government overreach through the last two administrations.
In a rule that took effect last August, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) rewrote federal law in a vain attempt to prevent Americans from making their own guns. That rule is part of a pattern: The Biden and Trump administrations both have sought to unilaterally impose new gun controls, reversing longstanding ATF positions while defying the rule of law and the separation of powers.
Two Texas gun owners, a company that sells gun parts, and the Firearms Policy Coalition challenged the ATF rule in a lawsuit they filed on August 11 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas. Three weeks later, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor concluded that the plaintiffs were right that the ATF had exceeded its statutory authority.
The ATF’s about-face in service of Biden’s gun control agenda threatened to destroy an industry that catered to DIY gun makers based on the agency’s previous interpretation of the law. Tactical Machining, one of the original plaintiffs in this lawsuit, said the agency’s edict, which transformed legal businesses into criminal enterprises, would wipe out more than 90 percent of its revenue.
Such bureaucratic reversals can also turn law-abiding gun owners into felons overnight. Consider the Trump administration’s equally arbitrary ban on bump stocks, accessories that facilitate a rapid firing technique in which a rifle moves back and forth, repeatedly activating the trigger by bumping it against a stationary finger.
When that ban took effect in March 2019, gun owners who had legally purchased bump stocks were suddenly committing felonies punishable by a $250,000 fine and up to 10 years in federal prison, even though the law had not changed. In January, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled that the ATF had no legal authority to impose the bump stock ban, which was based on an implausible redefinition of “machine gun” that contradicted the position that the ATF had taken for years.
I’ve read the National Firearms Act, and it defines a machine gun that will discharge more than one round with a single pull of the trigger. It’s why a historic Gatling gun doesn’t qualify but something rigged up with a power drill can.
Based on that definition, there’s nothing about a bump stock that qualifies as a machine gun. Nothing at all. It doesn’t facilitate more than one round being fired with a single trigger pull, it just makes it faster to pull the trigger.
As a result, the ATF had no real grounds to change the rules on bump stocks, just as is the case with unserialized firearms.
President cannot and should not have the authority to just change the rules on a whim, yet that’s precisely what we’ve seen from the last two administrations. Yeah, I know a lot of you guys like Trump, and I’ll admit he wasn’t as bad as I thought he’d be, but he’s also the president who likely opened the door for a lot of executive action on guns through his bump stock ban.
The damage was done and Biden is just running with it.
Yet if it’s permitted, we cannot even begin to guess where it will end. Incremental efforts like this lay the foundation for additional efforts. “Of course we can change the definition. We’ve done it before,” someone will say, and they’ll be right.
Our presidents are not kings. They should never get the power to essentially create laws, and create new felons, with the stroke of a pen.
That’s not how our system is supposed to work, and it’s not how we should tolerate it working.