Supreme Court strikes down federal ban on bump stocks

The New Civil Liberties Alliance challenged the bump stock ban, which was approved under the Trump administration.
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Posted at 8:14 AM, Jun 14, 2024

The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 on Friday that a federal ban on bump stocks is not constitutional.

A bump stock effectively turns a semi-automatic or single-fire weapon into a rapid-fire weapon. It does that by making a gun bump against the shooter's shoulder and trigger finger.

For a decade, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms said bump stocks were not machine guns, which are banned under federal law. However, the ATF reversed course and instituted a ban on bump stocks after the October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, in which the gunman fitted his semi-automatic rifles with the devices, allowing him to rapidly fire on a concert from his Mandalay Bay hotel room, killing 60 people.

Justice Clarence Thomas detailed why the court believes the ATF exceeded its authority when it banned bump stocks, noting that a semi-automatic rifle "cannot fire more than one shot 'by a single function of the trigger,'" meaning they are not machine guns under the definition of the law.

The Supreme Court's dissent by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, which was joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson, says the majority ignores the similarities between machine guns and semi-automatic weapons with bump stocks.

"The majority’s logic simply does not overcome the overwhelming textual and contextual evidence that 'single function of the trigger' means a single action by the shooter to initiate a firing sequence, including pulling a trigger and pushing forward on a bump-stock-equipped semiautomatic rifle," Sotomayor wrote.

The case made it to the Supreme Court after the New Civil Liberties Alliance challenged the bump stock ban, which was approved under the Trump administration. The group sued on behalf of Texas gun store owner Michael Cargill.

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"I stood and fought," Cargill said immediately after the ruling. "And because of this, the bump stock case is the case that is going to save everything."

While the case didn't directly deal with Second Amendment rights, gun rights activists still see this decision as a win.

“The Supreme Court has properly restrained executive branch agencies to their role of enforcing, and not making, the law. This decision will be pivotal to NRA’s future challenges of ATF regulations," said Randy Kozuch, executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action.

U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, who represents Las Vegas, decried the Supreme Court's decision.

"This is terrifying for so many communities impacted by gun violence, including Nevada’s First District and the victims of the 1 October shooting," she stated. "An angry lawmaker is a motivated one – This fight is far from over."

President Joe Biden echoed Titus' statement, urging Congress to act.

"I call on Congress to ban bump stocks, pass an assault weapon ban, and take additional action to save lives — send me a bill and I will sign it immediately," he said.

In a statement Friday, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said the following:

The purpose of a bump stock is to turn a firearm into an automatic weapon, or what is known as a machinegun under federal law. A common-sense reading of the law shows that bump stocks are exactly the type of device that Congress wanted banned nationwide under federal gun laws. The 2018 rule by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms defining bump stocks as machineguns was designed to prevent mass shootings and save lives. The only people who benefit from today’s dangerous Supreme Court decision rolling back the national ban on bump stocks are shooters who want to kill as many people as possible with a firearm.

Today’s decision increases the risk of more deaths from gun violence. And it will put law enforcement at greater risk when they respond to dangerous calls. Despite this setback, we will continue to enforce and defend Colorado’s common sense gun safety laws and do all we can to prevent the senseless tragedies caused by gun violence that have claimed far too many lives.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser