Bump Stock Owners Forced to Destroy Devices Can't Get Compensation from Feds, Judge Says

Congress Debates Sale Of Bump Stock Devices After Las Vegas Mass Shooting
A bump stock device (left) that fits on a semi-automatic rifle to increase the firing speed, making it similar to a fully automatic rifle, is installed on a AK-47 semi-automatic rifle, (right) at a gun store on October 5, 2017 in Salt Lake City, Utah. George Frey/Getty

A federal claims court this week dismissed a lawsuit from bump stock owners that had alleged the U.S. government was improperly forcing them to destroy their devices without compensation.

Bump stock owners filed the $500,000 lawsuit in March, after a federal reclassification of bump stocks as machine guns effectively outlawed their possession. The reclassification was prompted by the October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas.

Bump stocks are attachments to semi-automatic firearms that use the recoil energy of a weapon's fire to repel it backward into the user's trigger finger, allowing another shot to be fired off without a distinct pull.

The plaintiffs said that new regulations required owners to destroy or forfeit their devices, which violated the Fifth Amendment's "Takings Clause." The clause prohibits government seizure of private property without just compensation.

The suit, which was led by The Modern Sportsman, a federally licensed firearms dealer, argued that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) had previously determined that many different types of bump stocks were not machine guns, allowing some to continue to circulate while others had to be destroyed pursuant to the law.

It was not until the Trump administration reviewed previous regulatory decisions by the ATF that bump stock devices were comprehensively banned, which the lawsuit called an "abrupt reversal."

However, Senior Circuit Judge Loren A. Smith found that the government's rule fell within a common exception to the Fifth Amendment: property that is confiscated to advance the government's interest in promoting public safety.

"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. "Here, ATF acted properly within the confines of the limited federal police power."

Bump stocks entered the national discussion after the Las Vegas shooter, Stephen Paddock, used about a dozen of these devices to supercharge the lethality of his rifles. The attachments helped Paddock secure the largest death toll from a mass shooting in American history: 58 people. Paddock got off 1,057 rounds before taking his own life.

A couple stops on the Las Vegas Strip October 4, 2017, to look up at the two broken window in the Mandalay Bay hotel from which killer Stephen Paddock let loose the worst mass shooting in modern American history on October 1, 2017 at a country music festival across the street in Las Vegas, Nevada leaving 58 dead and over 500 injured. Mass killer Stephen Paddock used semi-automatic weapons which he modified with "bump-fire stock" to make them fire much like a fully automatic weapon. AFP Contributor/Getty

After the shooting, the Trump administration announced it would review the current regulatory regime controlling bump stocks. The ATF issued its final bump stock regulation in late 2018, which took effect the following March.

The Supreme Court declined to temporarily delay the new rules, pursuant to a challenge from gun-rights supporters, who had contested the authority of the government to outlaw bump stocks at all.

The regulations use the ATF's authority under the National Firearms Act Amendments of 1968, which carve out a clear definition of machine guns to encompass devices such as bump stocks. The law includes in its description any "combination of parts designed and intended for use in converting a weapon into a machinegun."

The Department of Justice estimated that there may have been about 520,000 bump stocks in circulation from marketplace sales before the ban.

A lawyer for the plaintiffs did not respond to a request for comment.