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Supreme Court Overturns Trump-Era Federal Ban On Bump Stocks


The U.S. Supreme Court has invalidated the Trump-era federal ban on bump stocks, ruling that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives overstepped its authority in implementing the ban. The decision was 6-3, with the court’s three liberal justices dissenting vehemently.

President Trump initiated the ban in 2017 following the tragic Las Vegas concert shooting, where a single gunman used bump stock-modified weapons to kill 60 people and injure 400 in just 11 minutes. The ATF subsequently banned bump stocks, arguing they converted legal semi-automatic firearms into illegal machine guns. However, on Friday, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority overturned this regulation.

Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the court, stated that a semi-automatic rifle with a bump stock is not a “machine gun” because it does not fire automatically. He supported his argument with six diagrams illustrating the mechanics of bump stocks and noted that the ATF’s regulation contradicted its previous stance.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Samuel Alito acknowledged that the Congress of 1986, which passed the relevant law, likely did not distinguish between machine guns and bump stock-equipped semi-automatic rifles. However, he asserted that the statute’s wording does not support the ban, and only Congress can amend the law.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing for the dissenters, accused the conservative majority of ignoring the realities of gun violence and hindering measures to prevent it. The central disagreement between the majority and dissent revolved around the operation of bump stock-modified weapons.

Joseph Blocher, co-director of the Duke Center for Firearms Law, explained that a bump stock essentially allows the gun to fire continuously as long as the shooter keeps their finger on the trigger, effectively making it function like a machine gun.

Justice Thomas, representing the majority, argued that because the bump stock does not alter the internal firing mechanism, it cannot be classified as an illegal machine gun. In a rare oral dissent, Justice Sotomayor criticized this narrow focus, emphasizing the practical impact of bump stocks, which enable shooters to fire up to 800 rounds per minute.

She concluded by likening the situation to identifying a duck by its characteristics, stating, “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.”

The decision was a significant setback for gun-control advocates. Kari Kuefler, a survivor of the Las Vegas shooting, expressed her dismay over the ruling and its broader implications. She highlighted the growing difficulty of finding safe spaces in society and called for governmental action to restore safety.

UCLA law professor Adam Winkler viewed the decision as indicative of the Supreme Court’s general aversion to agency regulations, suggesting that more gun control measures could be at risk. He described the ruling as “another shot across the bow,” making it more challenging for the ATF to regulate firearms.

The White House reacted swiftly, with President Biden urging Congress to pass a ban on bump stocks. However, the likelihood of such legislation passing remains uncertain due to ongoing political gridlock and the strategic efforts of the gun lobby. UCLA’s Winkler noted that the NRA anticipated the Supreme Court’s hostility towards agency regulations and correctly predicted the ban’s downfall.

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