7th Circuit Court of Appeals
Case Name: John Roe v. Steven Dettelbach
Case No.: 22-1165
Officials: Wood, Hamilton, and St. Eve, Circuit Judges.
Focus: Automatic Gun Possession – Standing
This suit is about a person’s right to have a gun part called a “drop-in auto sear.” Auto sears can be installed into semi-automatic guns to make them fully automatic. The National Firearms Act (the Firearms Act) defines a machine gun as any gun that can shoot more than one shot “by a single function of the trigger.” 26 U.S.C. § 5845(b). Because an auto sear can transform certain firearms into machine guns as so defined, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) decided in 1981 to define auto sears as machine guns; this definition does not require the auto sear to be installed or even owned in conjunction with a compatible rifle. John Roe, litigating under a pseudonym to avoid potential criminal liability, filed suit for a judgment declaring that he was entitled to have and keep a drop-in auto sear that he currently possesses. Roe purchased his auto sear in 1979, a time when these devices were not subject to any registration requirements. He contends that the commonly held interpretation of Ruling 81- 4 was that it had a grandfathering effect; that is, auto sears that were already manufactured or possessed were thought to be exempted permanently from the taxation and registration requirements of the Firearms Act. On that understanding, Roe never registered his auto sear. The district court dismissed the case without prejudice for lack of standing, concluding that federal courts could not redress Roe’s injury. The court’s action was correct, but not because Roe lacked standing. Instead, he failed to state a claim on which relief may be granted. See FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6). The Seventh Circuit modified the judgment to be one with prejudice.