A federal judge ruled last week that companies forced to destroy nearly 75,000 bump stocks will receive no compensation from the government.
Two companies and two individuals had sued the federal government after the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) issued a rule re-classifying bump stocks as “machine guns” thus forcing bump stock owners to surrender or destroy the devices. The plaintiffs argued that the ATF’s decision violated their Fifth Amendment rights and they were seeking $500,000 as compensation for their lost property.
Loren A Smith, a senior circuit judge for a federal court in Washington, D.C., dismissed the suit, arguing that because the ATF was exercising its “police powers” in its bump stock decision, the Fifth Amendment’s Taking Clause does not apply.
“The law is different in this case because the government, as the sovereign, has the power to take property that is dangerous, diseased, or used in criminal activities without compensation,” Smith wrote in a nine-page ruling. “Here, ATF acted properly within the confines of the limited federal police power.”
The judge expressed sympathy for the plaintiffs and acknowledged that his ruling would have been different if legally-possessed firearms had been confiscated by persons not committing a crime. But because, according to Smith, machineguns are not protected under the Second Amendment and the Takings Clause does not apply to property “injurious to the health, morals, or safety of the community,” bump stocks can be confiscated without fair compensation.
The ATF has waffled for decades on how the federal restrictions on machinegun ownership apply to bump stocks. In 2006, the agency determined that a type of bump stock device known as the Akins Accelerator constituted a machinegun and was thus subject to the National Firearms Act and the Firearm Owners Protection Act.
In subsequent years, however, the ATF determined that similar (though not identical) devices did not meet the definition of machinegun. American gun owners purchased hundreds of thousands of these bump stock-style devices until 2018, when, following a massacre in Las Vegas, the ATF reversed course again and classified all bump-stock style devices as machineguns.
Since bump stocks cannot be registered or legally owned after the rule took effect on March 26, 2019, the ATF forced bump stock owners to surrender or destroy the property the agency had previously considered legal.
The plaintiffs have not indicated whether they plan to appeal the ruling.