USA – -(AmmoLand.com)- Welcome back to The Legal Brief, the show where we CRUSH the various legal myths and misinformation surrounding various areas of the gun world. I’m your host Adam Kraut and today we’re talking about how a Federal Judge bumped out a class action lawsuit against Slide Fire.
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Last week, a federal Judge for the District of Nevada issued an order dismissing a class action lawsuit against Slide Fire Solutions, makers of the notorious bump-fire stock.
Slide Fire had requested the Court dismiss the action under two separate rules found in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The first one is a rule that governs personal jurisdiction and because this isn’t the Adam Kraut College of University for Law School Non-Profit Incorporated of Higher Education Institute, you’re just going to have to sign up for law school or check out the Court’s discussion on pages 5-13 at the link in the description.
The part we care about was under Rule 12(b)(6) which deals with dismissing a case when there is a failure to state a claim for which relief can be granted. You see, once upon a time in 2005, Congress enacted this law called the Protection in Lawful Commerce of Arms Act. We previously covered that on this show and for a refresher, you can check that out by clicking the link below.
The question that the Court had to wrestle with was whether the bump stock was a “qualified product”. For our purposes the statute defines the term to mean “a firearm…or a component part of a firearm”. If the bump stock was a qualified product, it would be entitled to protection under PLCAA and the case would have to be dismissed. If it weren’t, the case would be permitted to continue on. While lawmakers love to give words meaning, in this case, they did not define the term “component part”, which meant that the Court had to do it.
Both sides gave the Court differing interpretations of what a component part was and whether the bump stock should be found to be one. Slide Fire argued that they were component parts because they are a type of rifle stock and rifle stocks are necessary for a rifle to be fired from the shoulder. To support this position, Slide Fire cited to ATF’s Guidebook, the determination letter it received from ATF and case law which supported that position.
The Plaintiffs argued that they were accessories rather than a component part because they are added after a consumer purchases a fully functional rifle, require post-purchase installation, and are advertised as a way to “enhance” or “overhaul” a rifle in Slide Fire’s promotional catalog. They also pointed to cases where courts have held that devices such as cable locks, sights, and compensators are accessories rather than component parts of firearms, as well as federal tax regulations that the Plaintiffs suggested define “accessories” to encompass bump stocks.
The Court went with Slide Fire’s interpretation and found the stocks to be component parts. It noted that neither party disputed that a stock was a component part of a firearm. Pointing to ATF’s Guidebook, along with Webster’s dictionary, the Court stated that a “stock is an integral component of a rifle as it permits the firearm to be fired from the shoulder.” It also found that a bump stock was a modified rifle stock that replaces the existing part. Of particular interest was the next sentence. “Thus, it follows that upon installation, the bump stock is a rifle’s operative stock and, therefore, becomes an integral part of a rifle.”
While the Plaintiffs’ argument in relation to the excise tax is an interesting one, the Court cast it aside without much issue. The excise tax regulations on firearm manufacturers define the term component parts to include items that “would ordinarily be attached to a firearm during use and, in the ordinary course of trade, are packaged with the firearm at the time of sale by the manufacturer or importer.” The Plaintiffs argued that “because bump stocks are not included at the time of sale and require a conversion kit for installation, they would be regulated as accessories.” The Court pointed out that “the same regulation also states that “[c]omponent parts also include any part provided with the firearm that would affect the tax status of the firearm, such as an attachable shoulder stock,” and found the bump stocks to be component parts. In light of that finding, PLCAA requires that the Court dismiss the action, if none of the exemptions to PLCAA apply. It seems that both sides may have neglected to mention the fact that it was possible to get a bump stock equipped rifle from the factory.
The Plaintiff’s also threw in two arguments that one of the exemptions did apply, which would then put Slide Fire outside the scope of PLCAA’s protection. The exemption allows for a suit to continue when “a manufacturer or seller of a qualified product knowingly violated a State or Federal statute applicable to the sale or marketing of the product, and the violation was a proximate cause of the harm..” Among other things, this particular exemption applies when a “manufacturer or seller knowingly made any false entry in, or failed to make appropriate entry in, any record required to be kept under Federal or State law with respect to the qualified product…”
So what were the Plaintiffs arguing Slide Fire did? First, that Slide Fire allegedly made a false entry on its application for its FFL and second, that Slide Fire misrepresented that bump stocks were intended for persons with limited mobility to ATF. The first argument was not addressed because it was not in the original complaint. The Court found that in relation to the second argument, ATF’s letter to Slide Fire alludes to alleged “misrepresentations” but “it is not clear that this influenced the ATF’s conclusion.” Further, the Court found that the “Plaintiffs have not come forward with any authority suggesting that a device’s utility to those with disabilities impacts whether that device constitutes a firearm or firearm part,” and that “significantly, if a device’s marketability to those with disabilities was not a factor in the ATF’s finding, then it follows that Plaintiffs cannot show that Slide Fire’s misrepresentation proximately caused the injuries that are the subject of this case.”
So TLDR, Slide Fire stocks were found to be a component part of a firearm by the Court and therefor fall under the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. And that means the Court was obligated to dismiss the case. However, due to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and case law in the 9th Circuit, the Court gave the Plaintiff’s twenty-one days to file an amended complaint. Which means the bumpy road for Slide Fire may not be over yet. We’ll be following this one closely.
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Links for this episode:
- Prescott v. Slide Fire Solutions: https://princelaw.files.wordpress.com/2018/09/bump-stock-dismissal.pdf
- 15 U.S.C. § 7903 (PLCAA Definitions) – https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/15/7903
- PLCAA Legal Brief Episode: https://youtu.be/9jlc5AGoGp0
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