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Federal Judge Grants Preliminary Injunction Against ATF in Polymer80 Case

A Federal Judge has granted Polymer80’s request for a temporary restraining order (TRO) and preliminary injunction against the ATF over the latter’s Final Rule on Frames and Receivers, as well as the agency’s infamous Open Letter on December 27, 2022. In his decision, Judge Reed O’Connor of the Northern District of Texas wrote that “ATF’s new definition of ‘frame or receiver’… is facially unlawful.” Polymer80 immediately reopened sales of products banned by ATF decree last year.

Judge's gavel with handgun and ammunition
A Federal Judge has granted Polymer80 a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against the ATF’s Final Rule of Frames and Receivers and the agency’s Open Letter of December 27, 2022. (istock photo)

The TRO and preliminary injunction forbid ATF from enforcing the rule against Polymer80 or its customers. The preliminary injunction is a good sign. Judges only grant those motions if they believe the plaintiff, in this case Polymer80, has a good chance of succeeding on the merits of their case, as Judge O’Connor noted in the decision.

Defining Frames and Receivers

As noted above, the ATF’s new definition of frames and receivers is unlawful, according to Judge O’Connor. He reached that conclusion by comparing ATF’s definitions to those legislated by Congress in the 1968 Gun Control Act (GCA). This is important, since ATF is the primary interpreter and enforcer of the GCA, whose provisions set the parameters by which the agency operates.

O’Connor notes that “The Final Rule’s redefinition of ‘frame or receiver’ conflicts with the statute’s (GCA) plain meaning. The definition of ‘firearm’ in the Gun Control Act does not cover all firearm parts. It covers specifically ‘the frame or receiver of any such weapon’ that Congress defined as a firearm. That which may become a receiver is not itself a receiver. Congress could have included firearm parts that ‘may readily be converted’ to frames or receivers, as it did with ‘weapons’ that ‘may be readily converted’ to fire a projectile. But it omitted that language when talking about frames and receivers. ‘[W]hen Congress includes particular language in one section of a statute but omits it in another section of the same Act, it is generally presumed that Congress acts intentionally and purposely in the disparate inclusion or exclusion…Likewise, when Congress uses a phrase in one part of a definition and excludes that phrase from another part of the very same definition, courts should give effect to Congress’s deliberate exclusion.”

Polymer80 pistol blank
Congress did not define this as a frame, receiver, or firearm. The ATF cannot unilaterally change those definitions. (polymer80.com)

In other words, Congress means what it says and nothing more. The ATF lacks the authority to expand definitions beyond the clear text of what Congress enacted in 1968. This same principle is also applied to…

Defining Firearms

Judge O’Connor also writes that “Plaintiff is also likely to succeed on its claim that the Final Rule unlawfully treats weapon parts kits as firearms. The Final Rule contains its own definition of ‘firearm,’ notwithstanding that the GCA already defines the term. Under the Final Rule, ‘[t]he term shall include a weapon parts kit that is designed to or may readily be completed, assembled, restored, or otherwise converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive’…That language conflicts with the statute’s definition of ‘firearm.’”

You can read the decision yourself for more details if you like. Suffice it to say that Judge O’Connor makes it very clear that Congress wrote what they wrote for a reason. He provides numerous examples of Congress being very careful of how they defined terms such as “firearm.” He also shows how Congress deliberately declined to not include certain items, like parts kits, in their definition.

ATF Director Steve Dettelbach and Joe Biden
ATF Director Steve Dettelbach has allowed his agency to be a political weapon. (cleveland.com)

The Bottom Line

“In sum,” the decision reads, “the Gun Control Act’s precise wording demands precise application. Congress could have described a firearm as ‘any combination of parts’ that would produce a weapon that could fire a projectile. It used that language elsewhere in the definition. Congress could have described a firearm as any part ‘designed’ to be part of a weapon. It used that language too. Congress could have described a firearm as a set of parts that ‘may be readily assembled’ into a weapon, as it did for ‘destructive device.’ Congress could have written all those things, and the very definition of ‘firearm’ demonstrates that Congress knew the words that would accomplish those ends. But Congress did not regulate firearm parts as such, let alone parts kits that are ‘designed to or may readily be completed, assembled, restored, or otherwise converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive.’”

Again, this decision says that Congress writes the laws and the Executive Branch, of which ATF is a part, is supposed to enforce those laws as they are written. The ATF, as well as any other federal agency, lacks the power to change definitions that are clearly laid out in Congressional statutes. This is a charge being pursued by several lawsuits about the ATF’s recent shenanigans, such as the Frames and Receivers rule, the Bump Stock Rule, and the Pistol Brace Rule.

A Clear Abuse of Power

The Constitution’s Article I reads, “All legislative Powers herein shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.”

Nowhere is that authority delegated to the ATF or any other executive agency or court of justice. Judge O’Connor understands this, as he once commented that the judiciary “simply interprets the law.” He went on the say that if judges or justices “disagree with public policy, they have no say in that.” He was predictably pilloried by left-wing activists, law professors, and the media. Yet, he is absolutely correct about the Judicial Branch and, in this decision, the Executive Branch.

Federal Judge Reed O'Connor
Federal Judge Reed O’Connor. (dallasnews.com)

ATF’s rules purport to carry the weight of federal law, including prison time and heavy fines for those who break them. These rules are a clear overreach of executive power, and the ATF is among the most egregious offenders, especially under the current Administration.

The ATF will certainly appeal the decision, and, in fact, issued another Open Letter after the ruling, saying it expects all concerned parties to still follow the Final Rule. They really are that arrogant. But this ruling is a big win for the Second Amendment and the rule of law.

Thomas Jefferson wrote that an entity which writes, interprets, and enforces the law itself is the very definition of tyranny. That is what the ATF is doing with these rules. 

Let’s hope that the appellate courts recognize these facts and uphold Judge O’Connor’s decision. It’s time the ATF had its leash yanked. Hard.

You can read the decision for yourself at courtlistener.com.

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