Supreme Court Deals Major Blow to Executive Branch Overreach

Gun Rights

On Friday, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo and overturned Chevron U. S. A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. While the Loper Bright case dealt with the federal government’s regulation of commercial herring fishing, overruling the Court’s Chevron decision will have far reaching consequences for federal firearm regulations.

Before Friday, under so-called “Chevron deference” federal courts have deferred to any “permissible” reading of a federal statute made by a federal agency if the court determined that the intent of Congress under the statute was unclear. This rule led federal courts to uphold many federal regulations that bore little resemblance to the statutes they were supposedly implementing.

It is also antithetical to America’s constitutional structure for an executive branch agency to be given the power to create binding interpretations of the laws they are charged with enforcing. As Chief Justice Roberts put it in the Court’s majority opinion, “[t]he Framers … envisioned that the final ‘interpretation of the laws’ would be ‘the proper and peculiar province of the courts.’”

In recent years most federal gun control has been created through regulations implemented by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (“ATF”). This includes ATF’s treatment of all pistols with attached stabilizing braces as short-barreled rifles, ATF’s redefinition of the term “frame or receiver” to effectively ban parts used by hobbyist gun builders, and ATF’s attempt to expand who must be licensed as a gun dealer before selling firearms.

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Thanks to the Court’s decision to reject Chevron deference, all of these ATF rules are now on very questionable legal footing.

In fact, the Court’s decision to depart from agency deference has already played a role in the invalidation of a federal firearm regulation. When the Court rejected ATF’s ban on bump fire stocks two weeks ago, it notably did not give any deference to ATF’s interpretation of the term “machinegun.” Many Court watchers (correctly) assumed this meant the Court would be overturing or limiting Chevron when it released its decision in Loper Bright.

Gun owners, and all freedom-loving Americans, should look forward to a future where our liberties are (at least a little) less subject to the whims of unelected federal bureaucrats.

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