US Supreme Court overturns Trump-era ban on rapid-fire gun accessory

Gun Rights

The US Supreme Court has struck down a Trump-era ban on bump stocks — a rapid-fire gun accessory which was used in the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history.

The high court’s conservative majority found the Trump administration overstepped when it changed course from predecessors by banning bump stocks, which allow a rate of fire comparable to machine guns. 

Bump stocks are accessories that replace a rifle’s stock, the part that rests against the shoulder. 

They harness the gun’s recoil energy so that the trigger bumps against the shooter’s stationary finger, allowing the gun to fire at a similar speed to an automatic weapon.

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Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have their own bans on bump stocks that are not expected to be affected by the ruling, though four state bans may no longer cover bump stocks in the wake of the ruling, according to the gun-control group Everytown.

 A gun on display

A bump fire stock attaches to a semi-automatic rifle to increase the firing rate. (Reuters: George Frey )

A gunman in Las Vegas attacked a country music festival with assault rifles equipped with the accessories in 2017. 

The gunman fired more than 1,000 rounds into the crowd in 11 minutes, sending thousands of people fleeing in terror as hundreds were injured and dozens killed.

In an unusual twist, Democrats have decried the Supreme Court’s reversal of the GOP administration’s ban while many Republicans have backed the ruling.

The court’s 6-3 majority opinion, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, found the Justice Department was wrong to declare that bump stocks transformed semi-automatic rifles into illegal machine guns because, he wrote, each trigger depression in rapid succession still only released one shot.

A man wearing a sleeveless black tank top carries a decorated cross

Brian Ahlers, a survivor of the 2017 mass shooting, carries a cross representing his wife Hannah, one of the 58 victims. (Reuters: Steve Marcus )

Trump downplays actions in bid to win over NRA voters 

Originally, imposing a ban through regulation rather than legislation during Donald Trump’s presidency took pressure off Republicans to act following the massacre and another mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida. 

Prospects for passing gun restrictions in the current divided Congress are slim.

President Joe Biden, who supports gun restrictions, called on Congress to reinstate the ban imposed under his political foe. 

“Today’s decision strikes down an important gun safety regulation,” he said in a statement. 

“Americans should not have to live in fear of this mass devastation.” 

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Meanwhile, Trump’s campaign team expressed respect for the ruling before quickly pivoting to his endorsement by the National Rifle Association (NRA).

As Trump courts gun owners while running to retake the presidency, he has appeared to play down his own administration’s actions on bump stocks, telling NRA members in February that “nothing happened” on guns during his presidency despite “great pressure”.

He told the group that if he was elected again: “No-one will lay a finger on your firearms.”

A total of 60 people were killed during the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, including Christiana Duarte, whose family called Friday’s ruling tragic.

“The ruling is really just another way of inviting people to have another mass shooting,” a family friend and spokesperson said. 

“It’s unfortunate that they have to relive this again. They’re really unhappy.”

Plaintiff says he is glad he ‘stood up and fought’ against ban 

The ruling comes after the same Supreme Court conservative super-majority handed down a landmark decision expanding gun rights in 2022. 

The high court is also expected to rule in another gun case in the coming weeks, challenging a federal law intended to keep guns away from people under domestic violence restraining orders.

The arguments in the bump stock case, though, were more about whether the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) had overstepped its authority, not the US constitution’s second amendment covering firearms.

Plaintiff and Texas gun shop owner Michael Cargill applauded the ruling in a video posted online, predicting the case would have ripple effects by hampering other ATF gun restrictions.

“I’m glad I stood up and fought,” he said.

Mr Cargill was represented by the New Civil Liberties Alliance, a group funded by conservative donors such as the Koch network.

Justices from the court’s liberal wing suggested during oral arguments it was “common sense” that anything capable of unleashing a “torrent of bullets” was a machine gun under federal law.

But conservative justices raised questions about the effects of the ATF changing its mind a decade after declaring the accessories legal.


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