As anyone who has considered this issue for more than ten minutes will ineluctably comprehend, the entire purpose of writing laws down is to guarantee that, until those laws are changed by legislators, they remain in effect regardless of the transient passions of the mob. The law is the law, and it means what it means, even if there is “tremendous” public pressure to make it mean something else. If we want a government that is able to invent law on the fly in response to tragic events, we can abandon the Constitution and refashion the U.S. as a dictatorship. Until then, we must assiduously demand that all statutory alterations be achieved via the appropriate channels — which, in this case, are both houses of the United States Congress, followed by the president’s pen.
None of those channels were utilized by the ATF. The House passed nothing. The Senate passed nothing. The president signed nothing. Not a single line of law was amended. As the Fifth Circuit concluded, “a plain reading of the statutory language, paired with close consideration of the mechanics of a semi-automatic firearm, reveals that a bump stock is excluded from the technical definition of ‘machinegun’ set forth in the Gun Control Act and National Firearms Act.”
This was true before 2018. It was true in 2018. And yet the ATF still saw fit to disregard the plain text of the statute and, on the flimsiest of pretexts, appropriate to itself the lawmaking power that the Constitution grants solely to Congress.
Which, of course, is not how our system is supposed to work. Indeed, as the Fifth Circuit was at pains to note, even when ambiguities do exist in federal law — which was not the case in Michael Cargill v. Garland, et al., but often is in other cases — the courts are obliged to bias their interpretations in favor of the defendant and against the state. “Even if we are wrong” in our reading of the law, the ATF’s prior determinations confirm that “the statute is at least ambiguous,” the majority wrote. “And if the statute is ambiguous, Congress must cure that ambiguity, not the federal courts.”
You know, like it says in Article I of the Constitution. You can look it up.
— Charles C.W. Cooke in A Federal Court Thwarts the ATF’s Unconstitutional Power Grab