Court strikes bump stock ban

Gun Rights

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday struck down a Trump-era ban on bump stocks, the rapid-fire gun accessories used in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

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

The decision came after a gunman in Las Vegas attacked a country music festival with semiautomatic rifles equipped with the accessories.

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

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The ruling thrust guns back into the center of the political conversation with an unusual twist as Democrats decried the reversal of a GOP administration’s action and many Republicans backed the ruling.

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

The ruling reinforced the limits of executive reach and two justices — conservative Samuel Alito and liberal Sonia Sotomayor — separately highlighted how action in Congress could potentially provide a more lasting policy if there was political will to act.

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 dim.

President Joe Biden, who supports gun restrictions, called on Congress to reinstate the ban imposed under his political foe. Trump’s campaign team, meanwhile, expressed respect for the ruling before quickly pivoting to his endorsement by the National Rifle Association.

As Trump courts gun owners while running to retake the presidency, he 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 is elected again, “No one will lay a finger on your firearms.”

The 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas was carried out by a high-stakes gambler who killed himself, leaving his motive a mystery. A total of 60 people were killed in the 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,” said Danette Meyers, a family friend and spokesperson. “It’s unfortunate that they have to relive this again. They’re really unhappy.”

The opinion came after the same Supreme Court conservative supermajority handed down a landmark decision expanding gun rights in 2022.

The high court is expected to rule in another gun case in 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 less about Second Amendment rights and more about whether the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a Justice Department agency, overstepped its authority.

Bump stocks are accessories that replace a rifle’s stock, the part that rests against the shoulder. Invented in the 2000s, 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 as an automatic weapon. The Supreme Court majority found that the 1934 law against machine guns defined them as weapons that could automatically fire more than one shot by a single function of the trigger.

Bump stocks don’t fit that definition because “the trigger must still be released and reengaged to fire each additional shot,” Thomas wrote. He also pointed to more than a decade of ATF’s findings that claimed bump stocks weren’t automatic weapons.

The plaintiff , Texas gun shop owner and military veteran 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.

In a dissent joined by her liberal colleagues, Justice Sotomayor said bump stocks fit under the ordinary meaning of the law: “When I see a bird that walks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duck,” she wrote. The ruling, she said, could hamstring the ATF and have “deadly consequences.”

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