NEW: GOA v. Garland (6th Circuit): In an indirect refutation of an argument made in some anti-gun lawsuits, the ATF says that AR-15s cannot “be ‘readily restored’ to fire automatically” and that the existence of bump stocks “does not transform all AR-15s into machineguns.”
Case: 19-1298 Document: 126 Filed: 10/25/2021
U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Division, Appellate Staff 950 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Rm. 7531
Washington, DC 20530
October 25, 2021
Ms. Deborah S. Hunt
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
Office of the Clerk
540 Potter Stewart U.S. Courthouse
100 E. Fifth Street
Cincinnati, Ohio 45202
RE: Gun Owners of America, Inc. v. Garland, No. 19-1298 (6th Cir.) (en banc argument held on October 20, 2021)
Dear Ms. Hunt:
During oral argument in this case, the Court requested information about the meaning of the phrase “can be readily restored to shoot” as used in the statutory definition of machinegun. See 26 U.S.C. § 5845(b).
A “machinegun” is “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.” 26 U.S.C. § 5845(b). The definition also includes “parts” that can be used to “convert]] a weapon into a machinegun.” Id.
In a series of classification rulings, ATF has interpreted “can be readily restored to shoot” to refer to “weapons which previously could shoot automatically but will not in their present condition.”1
ATF Ruling 82-2
ATF Ruling 82-8
ATF Ruling 83-5
For example, a machinegun that has a part known as a “disconnect” added to it, which prevents the weapon from firing more than one shot by a single function of the trigger, remains a machinegun because it can be “readily restored” to shoot automatically by filing down the disconnect. See United States v. Alverson, 666 F.2d 341, 344-45 (9th Cir. 1982). This Court concluded in United States v. One TRW, Model M14, 7.62 Caliber Rifle, 441 F.3d 416 (6th Cir. 2006), that a weapon “made from cut-up M-14s,” id. at 424, also fit within this definition.
Congress’s use of the phrase “readily restored” precludes defendants from evading the statutory prohibition on possession of machineguns by maintaining machineguns in a temporary, modified state in which they cannot fire automatically.
ATF’s classification of bump stocks as machineguns does not involve a circumstance in which a firearm can be “readily restored” to shoot automatically. ATF concluded that a bump stock is a “machinegun” because it is a “part” that “convert[s] a weapon into a machinegun,” 26 U.S.C. § 5845(b). At oral argument, the question arose whether ATF’s interpretation of “machinegun” to include bump stocks indicated that all AR-15s must be machineguns pursuant to the “readily restored” language. As noted, the classification of bump stocks turns on the fact that a bump stock is a part that converts a weapon into a machinegun, and it thus does not bear on the “readily restored” analysis. In any event, an AR-15 is not a firearm that can be “readily restored” to fire automatically. An AR-15—a semiautomatic firearm—is not a weapon that “previously could shoot automatically but will not in [its] present condition.” See supra n.l. A part that could transform an AR-15 into a fully automatic weapon might fall within the definition of machinegun. See, e.g, ATF Ruling 81-4, https://www.atf.gov/firearms/docs/ruling/1981-4-auto-sear/download (classifying kits known as “auto sears” as machineguns). The existence of such kits, like the existence of bump stocks, does not transform all AR-15s into machineguns.
We would be grateful if you would provide this letter to the members of the Court.
s/ Mark B. Stern
Mark B. Stern
Appellate Litigation Counsel
cc:counsel (via CM/ECF)