Supreme Court gun ruling stuns Las Vegas shooting survivors

Gun Rights

On 1 October 2017, Heather Gooze was serving drinks at the Route 91 music festival in Las Vegas when concert-goers began running into her bar, screaming and covered in blood.

A gunman perched high in a Las Vegas hotel had opened fire on the festivities below. He killed 60 people and wounded over 400 more. He was able to carry out what is still the deadliest mass shooting in US history because of a mechanism he installed on his gun known as a bump stock.

In the aftermath of the massacre, then-President Donald Trump banned bump stocks, a modification that allows a rifle to fire like a machine gun. It was a rare example of the US making a change to its gun policies in the wake of a mass shooting, and it was a reform that survivors of the attack welcomed.

The ban was all the more extraordinary because it was instituted by a Republican president and supported by the National Rifle Association, figures that would normally oppose a gun control proposal.

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On Friday, the US Supreme Court struck down the ban, deciding in a 6-3 opinion that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had overstepped its authority to outlaw the device.

For survivors like Ms Gooze, who identifies as liberal and thought Trump’s ban was “phenomenal”, the ruling felt like a step backward for the country.

“Who has ever used a bump stock for good?” she told the BBC. “There’s no reason for a civilian to use a mass shooting machine.”

Ms Gooze, 50, still vividly remembers the panic of helping people flee the carnage, and the frantic battle to save the people struck by the more than 1,000 rounds that the gunman fired with the help of his weapon’s modification.

“I had my finger in the bullet hole of one of our angels in the back of their head,” she said of one victim she tried to save. She stayed with the body of another victim for hours, using a phone she found in their pocket to contact the family.

“I watched people’s lives change right in front of my face, as well as my own,” she said.

One of those lives was Brittany Quintero’s. Ms Quintero was separated from her friend in the chaos of the shooting, and though they both survived, she has spent years working through the trauma the shooting inflicted.

She told the BBC that the Supreme Court’s decision had left her reeling.

“It feels like another slap in the face, to be honest,” she said.

Ms Quintero, 41, said she does not necessarily believe that more stringent gun restrictions would help prevent mass shootings. She also believes not enough proposed solutions address mental health.

“I don’t think taking away people’s Second Amendment rights is going to solve these things that keep occurring,” she said, referring to the protections for gun owners enshrined in the US Constitution.

“If someone has it in their mind to do it, they’re going to find a way or other means.”

But despite her reservations, she still thinks the Supreme Court was wrong to reinstate access to bump stocks.

The Route 91 survivors were not universally disheartened by the Supreme Court decision. Several were discussing the news in a private Facebook group, Ms Gooze said, and some members of the community had responded that the ruling did not bother them.

“A gun isn’t the issue, we need them to keep what little freedom we have left. It’s the government that’s the enemy,” one survivor wrote in a message that Ms Gooze read to the BBC.

Gun violence remains a major public safety issue in the United States. The nation has experienced 215 mass shootings so far in 2024, according to the Gun Violence Archive (their methodology defines a mass shooting as when four or more people are shot or killed, not including the shooter).

Both Ms Gooze and Ms Quintero lamented that the gun debate had grown so politicised.

“I don’t think I’m ever going to see in my lifetime a true law or decision that will be made to solve the gun violence issue,” Ms Gooze said.

Repeated attempts to ban bump stocks through federal legislation have stalled, and face little chance of passing in the near term due to a divided Congress.

Trump, who is again running for president, said he would respect the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down his policy and reaffirmed his support for broader access to guns.

“The Court has spoken and their decision should be respected,” Trump campaign spokeswoman Karoline Leavitt said in a statement. “President Trump has been and always will be a fierce defender of Americans’ Second Amendment rights and he is proud to be endorsed by the NRA.”

In video on X, formerly Twitter, the gun shop owner who challenged the bump stock ban at the Supreme Court celebrated his victory and said he had prevented the government from banning other gun parts.

The nation’s highest court sided with his argument that the Trump administration overstepped when it sought to regulate bump stocks like machine guns.

“I stood and fought,” said gun shop owner Michael Cargill, “and because of this, the bump stock case is going to be the case that saves everything.”

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