A closeup of the moto on the face of the Supreme Court
A closeup of the moto on the face of the Supreme Court / Stephen Gutowski

Supreme Court Strikes Down Bump Stock Ban

The Supreme Court has found the bump stock ban is unlawful.

In a 6-3 ruling, the Court ruled the ban is inconsistent with the federal law the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) used to justify it. The majority said the ATF exceeded the authority Congress granted it under that law. The decision effectively undoes the ATF’s ban, which was imposed under former president Donald Trump.

“In any event, Congress could have linked the definition of ‘machinegun’ to a weapon’s rate of fire, as the dissent would prefer,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the majority in Cargill v. Garland. “But, it instead enacted a statute that turns on whether a weapon can fire more than one shot ‘automatically . . . by a single function of the trigger.’ And, ‘it is never our job to rewrite . . . statutory text under the banner of speculation about what Congress might have done.'”

The decision makes bump stocks legal to own once again, years after the ATF ordered owners to turn them in or face potential felony charges. It represents a setback for former president Donald Trump, who instituted the ban and has continually stood by it to the disdain of some gun-rights advocates. However, it also imperils many of President Joe Biden’s executive actions restricting firearms because they were carried out using the same ATF rulemaking process–often with similar flip-flops on a restriction’s legality from the agency.

The Court took issue with the ATF’s reversal of where bump stocks fit into federal regulations.

“For many years, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) took the position that semiautomatic rifles equipped with bump stocks were not machineguns under the statute. On more than 10 separate occasions over several administrations, ATF consistently concluded that rifles equipped with bump stocks cannot ‘automatically’ fire more than one shot ‘by a single function of the trigger,'” Thomas wrote. “In April 2017, for example, ATF explained that a rifle equipped with a bump stock does not ‘operat[e] automatically’ because ‘forward pressure must be applied with the support hand to the forward handguard.’ And, because the shooter slides the rifle forward in the stock ‘to fire each shot, each succeeding shot fir[es] with a single trigger function.'”

The majority noted the ATF “abruptly reversed course” after a shooter used a collection of firearms, including several equipped with bump stocks, to murder dozens of people at a music festival in Las Vegas, Nevada. Thomas said the ATF’s “earlier regulations simply restated” the machinegun law, but the new rule “amended those regulations by adding” a new definition. Ultimately, the Court found bump stocks simply did not meet the technical definition of “machinegun” under federal law.

“A semiautomatic rifle equipped with a bump stock does not fire more than one shot ‘by a single function of the trigger,'” Thomas wrote. “With or without a bump stock, a shooter must release and reset the trigger between every shot. And, any subsequent shot fired after the trigger has been released and reset is the result of a separate and distinct ‘function of the trigger.’ All that a bump stock does is accelerate the rate of fire by causing these distinct ‘function[s]’ of the trigger to occur in rapid succession.”

The ruling does not touch on the Second Amendment or whether bump stocks could be banned by an act of Congress. Instead, it was wholly limited to whether the ATF exceeded its authority under current law. The Court has yet to release US v. Rahimi, the only case this session dealing with a direct Second Amendment question, but the ruling is expected by the end of the month.

UPDATE 6-14-2024 11:09 AM EASTERN: This piece has been updated with more quotes from the ruling and additional background.

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Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

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Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

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