The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a gun rights case involving bump stocks — attachments to semiautomatic rifles — during this term, which started last week and typically runs through early summer, which will be in the middle of the next general election.
The case is Garland v. Cargill, and what is being challenged is a regulation that was made by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) in response to a mass shooting at a music festival in Las Vegas in 2017. Alaska’s Rep. Mike Cronk was at that music festival, and saved his friend’s life by plugging the man’s bullet holes with his fingers and flagging down an ambulance. Fifty-nine people died in that shooting, including a man who died in Cronk’s arms on the way to the hospital. Another 500 were injured.
The assailant at the Route 91 Harvest Festival had used semi-automatic rifles equipped with bump-stock devices. The subsequent ATF rule required owners of bump stocks to either destroy them or deliver them to an ATF office, or be charged with a federal crime.
Earlier, both the Fifth and Sixths Courts of Appeals had struct down the regulation because the regulation said that the bump stock made the weapon into a machine gun, and the definitions were fuzzy. Federal laws pertaining to guns do not clearly refer to bump stocks, and so the regulation was overreaching the law. The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia came to a different conclusion and said that the regulation was correct in saying that the bump stock creates a machine gun.
The Biden Administration challenged the Fifth and Sixth courts ruling and the bump stock owners in D.C. sought their own redress at the Supreme Court. Twenty-five attorneys general, including Alaska’s AG Treg Taylor, filed a lawsuit to stop the new regulation, which affects thousands of Alaskans.
The deadline for registering bump stocks and pistol-braced firearms was May 31, but only a fraction of Americans have apparently complied, according to data mined from the ATF.
The Parkland, Fla. school shooting of 2018 will also be a side topic at the Supreme Court this year. The case, National Rifle Association v. Vullo, challenges the New York Department of Financial Services after its superintendent advised banks and other financial companies doing business in New York to sever their relationships with any gun-rights groups, such as the NRA, and threatened companies by warning of “reputational risk,” a dog whistle to them that she had the power to punish them through the authority of her office if they did not comply. This was a case of government coercion.
The NRA took those statements by then-Superintendent Maria Vullo to court, asserting that the group’s First Amendment rights were being violated by her veiled threats.
A decision by a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York went against the NRA, which appealed to the Supreme Court for a final answer on whether Vullo was using her power to leverage companies. The appeals court said “government officials have a right — indeed, a duty — to address issues of public concern,” and that Vullo was only attempting to persuade, not intimidate. That’s not how the NRA sees it, however. To gun-rights advocates, it sounded like coercion.
The Goldwater Institute, a conservative advocacy organization, filed a request to submit an amicus curiae brief in the NRA case, but the court denied that motion, while at the same time allowing the case to join the justices’ calendar.