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Aposhian v. Barr

United States District Court, D. Utah

March 15, 2019

W. CLARK APOSHIAN, Plaintiff,
v.
WILLIAM P. BARR,[1] Attorney General of the United States, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION

          JILL N. PARRISH UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the court on plaintiff W. Clark Aposhian's Motion for Preliminary Injunction filed on January 17, 2019. (ECF No. 10). Defendants filed an opposition on February 6, 2019, (ECF No. 25), to which Mr. Aposhian replied on February 11, 2019, (ECF No. 26). The court heard oral argument for this motion on February 14, 2019. On the basis of that hearing, the parties' memoranda, a review of relevant law, and for the reasons below, plaintiff's Motion for Preliminary Injunction is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Regulatory Framework of Machine Guns and Bump-Stock-Type Devices

         Congress began regulating machine guns with its passage of the National Firearms Act of 1934 (the “NFA”). That act defined such weapons as follows:

The term “machinegun”[2] means any weapon which shoots, is designed to shoot, or can be readily restored to shoot, automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger. The term shall also include the frame or receiver of any such weapon, any part designed and intended solely and exclusively, or combination of parts designed and intended, for use in converting a weapon into a machinegun, and any combination of parts from which a machinegun can be assembled if such parts are in the possession or under the control of a person.

26 U.S.C. § 5845(b). The Gun Control Act of 1968 (the “GCA”) incorporated this definition by reference into the criminal code. See 18 U.S.C. § 921(23) (“The term ‘machinegun' has the meaning given such term in section 5845(b) of the National Firearms Act . . . .”). Today, with limited exceptions, it is “unlawful for any person to transfer or possess a machinegun.” 18 U.S.C. § 922(o).

         In 2006, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (the “ATF”) ruled that a bump-stock-type device[3] called the Akins Accelerator qualified as a machine gun. The Akins Accelerator employed internal springs to harness the weapon's recoil energy to repeatedly force the rifle forward into the operator's finger. In labeling the Akins Accelerator a machine gun, the ATF interpreted the statutory language “single function of the trigger” to mean “single pull of the trigger.” The inventor of the Akins Accelerator subsequently challenged this interpretation in federal court. After the district court rejected the challenge, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, concluding that the ATF's interpretation was “consonant with the statute and its legislative history.” See Akins v. United States, 312 Fed.Appx. 197, 200 (11th Cir. 2009).

         From 2008 to 2017, the ATF issued ten letter rulings in response to requests to classify bump-stock-type devices. Applying the “single pull of the trigger” interpretation, these rulings found that the devices at issue-including Mr. Aposhian's Slide Fire device-indeed allowed a shooter to fire more than one shot with a single pull of the trigger. However, because the subject devices did not rely on internal springs or other mechanical parts to channel recoil energy like the Akins Accelerator, the ATF concluded that they did not fire “automatically” within the meaning of the statutory definition.

         B. The Final Rule

         On October 1, 2017, a lone shooter employing multiple semi-automatic rifles with attached bump-stock-type devices fired several hundred rounds of ammunition into a crowd in Las Vegas, Nevada, killing 58 people and wounding roughly 500 more. Following this event, members of Congress urged the ATF to examine whether devices like the one used in the attack were actually machine guns prohibited by law. On December 26, 2017, the Department of Justice (the “DOJ”) published an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM), soliciting comments and manufacturer/retailer data regarding bump-stock-type devices. See Application of the Definition of Machinegun to “Bump Fire” Stocks and Other Similar Devices, 82 Fed. Reg. 60929 (Dec. 26, 2017). On February 20, 2018, the President issued a memorandum directing the Attorney General “to dedicate all available resources to complete the review of the comments received, and, as expeditiously as possible, to propose for notice and comment a rule banning all devices that turn legal weapons into machineguns.” Application of the Definition of Machinegun to “Bump Fire” Stocks and Other Similar Devices; Memorandum for the Attorney General, 83 Fed. Reg. 7949 (Feb. 23, 2018).

         On March 29, 2018, the DOJ published a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM). See Bump-Stock-Type Devices, 83 Fed. Reg. 13442 (Mar. 29, 2018). Following a period of public comment, the DOJ issued a Final Rule on December 26, 2018 that (1) formalizes the ATF's longstanding interpretation of “single function of the trigger” to mean “single pull of the trigger”; (2) interprets “automatically” to mean “as the result of a self-acting or self-regulating mechanism that allows the firing of multiple rounds through a single pull of the trigger”; and (3) concluding that bump-stock-type devices are machine guns proscribed by the statutory scheme as interpreted by the Final Rule. See Bump-Stock-Type Devices, 83 Fed. Reg. 66514 (Dec. 26, 2018). The Final Rule directs owners of bump-stock-type devices to either destroy or surrender them to the ATF before the Final Rule goes into effect on March 26, 2019. 83 Fed. Reg. 66515.

         Mr. Aposhian lawfully purchased and continues to own a Slide Fire bump-stock-type device. On January 16, 2019, Mr. Aposhian filed suit against the Attorney General of the United States, the DOJ, the Director of the ATF, and the ATF. (ECF No. 2). On January 17, 2019, Mr. Aposhian filed this motion for preliminary injunction seeking to enjoin the Final Rule from going into effect on March 26, 2019. (ECF No. 10).

         II.PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION STANDARD

         To obtain preliminary injunctive relief, a movant must establish: “(1) a substantial likelihood of success on the merits; (2) irreparable harm to the movant if the injunction is denied; (3) the threatened injury outweighs the harm that the preliminary injunction may cause the opposing party; and (4) the injunction, if issued, will not adversely affect the public interest.” Gen. Motors Corp. v. Urban Gorilla, LLC, 500 F.3d 1222, 1226 (10th Cir. 2007).

         III. ...


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