The Misrepresentation of Cargill is Anything But Accidental

AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib

The Supreme Court's ruling on bump stocks was a simple matter. A lot of people are unhappy with it, which isn't surprising, but they probably shouldn't be.

You see, Cargill wasn't really a Second Amendment case. Yes, it involved something with guns and the ATF, but the underlying issue wasn't a Second Amendment thing. It was a matter of administrative law.


And, as Reason's Jacob Sullum wrote, a lot of people are misconstruing what the case actually said.

After the Supreme Court overturned the Trump administration's bump stock ban last week, critics complained that the justices had interpreted the Second Amendment in a way that rules out perfectly reasonable gun regulations. That was an odd complaint, because the case did not involve the Second Amendment.

The Court's decision upheld an important principle that goes far beyond gun control: Federal bureaucrats do not have the authority to invent new crimes by rewriting the law. All Americans, regardless of how they feel about gun rights, have a stake in that principle, which is crucial to the rule of law, the separation of powers, and the due process requirement of fair notice.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D–Conn.) saw last week's decision as a sign that the Supreme Court plans to "fundamentally rewrite the Second Amendment," which will "make it very hard for Congress or state legislatures to be able to regulate guns." MSNBC commentator Joyce Vance had a similar objection: "Does the history & tradition of our country really suggest the Founding Fathers meant for the 2nd Amendment to arm Americans with guns that fire 400 to 800 rounds per minute?"

Although Murphy is a lawyer and Vance is a law professor, they completely misconstrued what this case was about. The Supreme Court ruled that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) exceeded its statutory authority when it tried to ban bump stocks.

In short, the ATF tried to redefine something that already had a specific definition in law passed by Congress. Even though federal agencies may have regulatory authority in various things, that authority is granted to them by Congress. Unless Congress votes otherwise, they don't get to supersede the congressional authority. If Congress defines a thing, a bureaucrat can't just decide the definition is really something else.


This is ultimately a good thing if you value our legislative process, which Democrats like Murphy and Vance claim to. It means our elected officials are still, ultimately, in control.

So why are they misconstruing it? Both have a background where they should understand what's what.

Unless, of course, they're misrepresenting it on purpose.

Look, it's an election year. Democrats are desperate. They cannot handle the idea of a second Trump presidency. Yet with Trump, they can try something they couldn't in 2016. They can try to attack his record, and his nomination of three Supreme Court justices had a profound impact on the Court.

By pretending that the Cargill ruling essentially allowed machine guns to be handed out lawfully on every street corner, they're trying to terrify the American people into not supporting Trump. They hope that in a second Biden term, they'll get the chance to shift the Supreme Court into being more liberal, but to do that they need the public unwilling to vote for Biden.

Since the economy is in the toilet and the perception of violent crime is that it's just getting worse, they have to come up with something else, and this is something they think can work.

But at its core, Cargill isn't a Second Amendment case. It means the EPA can't redefine waterways to include your swimming pool just because they want to tell you how much chlorine you can use. It means the Department of Transportation can't change the definitions of things so that you need a special license for your car because you have a side hustle driving for Uber.


That's not terrifying enough. In fact, most Americans would actually agree that federal bureaucrats shouldn't be allowed to just make stuff up and decide it's the law, even if they actually don't like bump stocks being legal.

So, they misrepresent what the ruling said, hopeful that no one will bother to look any deeper.

They're counting on you being lazy.

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