Update on the 80% Receiver Rule Appeal

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has released its decision on the Justice Department’s appeal of VanDerStok vs. Garland, and once again, your Second Amendment rights to build, own, and use a gun of your own private manufacture have been affirmed. Handing down the decision late on November 9, 2023, the appellate court found 3-0 in favor of the plaintiffs, including Intervenor plaintiff JSD Supply, vacating the original District Court ruling and remanding it for further consideration in the best way possible. As a firearms parts and accessories business that found itself squarely in the ATF’s crosshairs for selling legal gun parts even before the new ATF rule went into effect, we’re proud to bring you the latest details about legal action we’ve joined to protect your rights and where the fight goes from here.

The New “Ghost Gun” Rule

For those who weren’t aware, in 2022, the Justice Department, at the direction of United States President Joe Biden, began working on a rule to limit the production, possession, sale, and trade of homemade weapons, focusing largely on those produced from 80% lower receivers. Dubbed “Ghost Guns” due to their lack of serial number and to create better newsreel sound bites, these firearm parts still required milling, finishing, and assembly to create a useable firearm. For most hobbyists, this requires several days of tinkering in their home workshop, although an experienced firearms maker with all tools on hand could complete the process much quicker. 

The new rule sought to redefine what constituted a firearm under the Gun Control Act of 1968. Now, in addition to actual firearms, any constituent parts, whatever their level of completion, could qualify as a firearm if it could be “readily” finished, a vague threshold that left a wide range of interpretation moderated only by the judgment and intent of law enforcement. There was no congressional oversight. The commentary period was legally compliant, at best, and largely ignored in all practicality unless it supported the new rule. It was almost immediately challenged by manufacturers, retailers, and private citizens worried about government overreach.

The District Court’s Ruling

In July, the District Court found that the ATF’s new rule was “in excess of its statutory jurisdiction” and vacated the final rule. In plain language, the court found that whether or not the substance of the rule was legal, the way they went about forcing it onto the American people rather than leaving it to the legislature to determine a change was needed to the Gun Control Act was not permissible. The government, as expected, appealed and won a stay of the District Court’s order, allowing them to enforce the rule while it worked further into the appeals process.

Vacated and Remanded for Consideration on Merits

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the District’s order to vacate the new rule, not to reinstate the rule but to send it back to the District Court for consideration that it should be vacated on the merits of the plaintiff’s lawsuit that not only was the process against the law but the substance of the new rule as well. In their 3-0 ruling, it is noted that in the GCA, Congress established the definition of what constitutes a firearm 55 years ago–offering sufficient guidance for over half a century–and has yet to find it necessary to revisit the issue.  

Where We Go From Here

The first stop is back to the District Court, where we expect a new ruling in line with the decision at the appellate level. The Government has deep pockets and won’t be giving up the fight. There is still a strong possibility the case could end up before the Supreme Court, although at this time, it’s far too early to tell when that might be or what the court system will look like when and if that happens. What we can tell you is that it isn’t the time to rest.

The President of the United States continues to have his sights set on 80% receivers, and that means the Justice Department will be exploring other avenues of attack even as this new rule continues to be litigated. Anti-gun legislators will also be sharpening their knives and political rhetoric, using the fear of “ghost guns” to raise money for the upcoming election cycle at the federal, state, and local levels.

What You Can Do to Protect Your Second Amendment

Now is the time to make your feelings known about your right to keep and bear arms–including your right as a law-abiding citizen to make your own firearms for private use. Join your favorite gun rights organizations, like the Gun Owners of America (GOA) and Firearms Policy Coalition (FPC), to join your voice with other patriots who are concerned about our freedoms. Reach out to your elected representatives, visit their offices, and attend town hall meetings when they come to your town. Finally, vote!

We’re Doing Our Part

Good lawyers aren’t cheap, but neither is our freedom. We’ll continue to fight government overreach through the court system, keep you in the loop on the latest happenings, and offer quality firearms parts to help you keep and bear arms better. It’s the only way we know how to be. 

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Legal Disclaimer: We are not attorneys. The information provided in this article is not intended to be legal advice. Please do your own research, consult an attorney, and do not rely on this information as legal advice.