Akins v. United States, 11th Circuit Another Brief Contesting ATF’s Definition of a “Machinegun”

Michael Harless Constitutional Law, Firearms Law, U. S. Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

On November 26, 2008, the firm filed an amicus brief on behalf of Gun Owners Foundation (GOF) and Gun Owners of America (GOA) in the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in support of Bill Akins.  Akins is the inventor of the Akins Accelerator — a patented replacement stock of a semiautomatic firearm that through controlled “bump firing” increases the rate of fire, after an initial trigger pull, by multiple functions of the trigger controlled by the shooter’s well-placed trigger finger.

In a 2006 ruling, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) concluded that Mr. Akins’ accelerator was a machinegun, because it fired repeatedly upon only one “pull” of the trigger and, thus, converted a semiautomatic rifle into an automatic one.  Prior to the 2006 ruling, however, ATF twice had notified Mr. Akins that, after testing the accelerator, ATF determined that it was not a machinegun; rather the accelerator simply enabled a semiautomatic rifle to shoot at an increased rate of fire, not with a single pull of the trigger, but by a series of multiple functions of the trigger pressing against the shooter’s well-placed trigger finger.  Thus, the accelerator did not fit within the statutory definition of a machinegun because the firearm did not shoot automatically at the “singlefunction of the trigger.”

In order to reach the opposite conclusion in 2006, ATF changed its interpretation of the statutory definition of a machinegun, construing “single function of the trigger” to mean the same thing as “single pull of the trigger.”  Since the ATF accelerator required only one “pull” of the trigger, in order for a semiautomatic firearm to shoot more than one shot, the ATF dismissed as irrelevant the fact that the firearm would not continue to shoot repeatedly unless the trigger continued to function by pushing against the shooter’s well-placed trigger finger.

The GOF/GOA amicus brief emphasized that the 2006 ruling was made in flagrant disregard of the plain language of the statutory definition of a machinegun — and challenged ATF’s claim that it acted within its authority to protect the “public safety” from “dangerous weapons,” noting that Congress had enacted no statutory provision prohibiting “dangerous weapons,” and that, in the Firearms Owners Protection Act of 1986, Congress had amended ATF’s powers to enact rules and regulations“only … as are necessary to carry out the provisions of this chapter ….”

Link to brief