United States v. Stines (11th Cir. May 2022)

The Federal Docket

June 14, 2022

Christopher Stines appealed his sentence after the district court refused to calculate his offense level under USSG 2M5.2(a)(2), which applies a lower base offense level for defendants convicted of illegally exporting firearms where the offense involves “only non-fully automatic small arms and there were no more than two weapons.”

At issue was whether Stines conduct fell under 2M5.2(a)(2) where he had sent enough firearm parts to assemble two operable guns, with several additional parts leftover to use on other firearms. Reviewing the issue as a matter of first impression, the Eleventh Circuit held that the district court properly declined to apply USSG 2M5.2(a)(2), as Stines’ offense “involves more than the two weapons 2M5.2(a)(2) allows.” The Court reasoned that “weaponry” includes “component parts for weaponry.” The Court recognized that its interpretation could lead to absurd results, such as a defendant being held accountable for three firearms based on exporting three firearm triggers, but declined to invoke the “absurd results canon.”

Luck concurred in part and in the judgment, reasoning that “gun parts” are not “non-fully automatic small arms.” Since gun parts are not arms, as they are incomplete, they cannot be a basis for applying the lower base offense level under 2M5.2(a)(2), which Luck wrote is more appropriately applied when the offense involves rifles, handguns, or shotguns.

Appeal from the Southern District of Florida
Opinion by Wilson, joined by Luck and Lagoa
Concurrence by Luck

Click here to read the opinion.

Tom Church - Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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