Supreme Court Strikes Down Bump Stock Ban

Sam Dorman
By Sam Dorman
June 14, 2024Supreme Court

The Supreme Court ruled on June 14 that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) exceeded its authority when it interpreted a federal firearms statute to outlaw the use of bump stocks.

“We conclude that semiautomatic rifle equipped with a bump stock is not a ‘machinegun’ because it does not fire more than one shot ‘by a single function of the trigger,'” Justice Clarence Thomas said in the court’s majority opinion.

The vote was 6–3, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor writing a dissent joined by the other two liberal justices. Her dissent suggested that bump stocks effectively make semiautomatic weapons into machine guns.

A bump stock is a firearm accessory that allows users to shoot at a continuous rate, resulting in hundreds of rounds fired per minute.

“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 said.

She added that the “majority’s artificially narrow definition hamstrings the Government’s efforts to keep machineguns from gunmen like the Las Vegas shooter.”

The prohibitive measure was introduced after the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, in which a gunman used bump stock-equipped firearms. It reversed years of ATF interpretations allowing nonmechanical bump stocks, or those without a spring.

In doing so, the ATF reinterpreted a post-prohibition law that banned the use of machine guns. It was difficult to tell from oral arguments on Feb. 28 how the justices would vote.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit had initially upheld a district court decision in favor of the ATF’s rule but that decision was reversed during an en banc review. Justice Thomas’s decision upheld that review’s ruling in favor of Michael Cargill, the radio host who challenged the ATF rule.

Mr. Cargill responded to the decision with a celebratory video posted to X. He predicted the decision would prevent the ATF from pursuing regulations of triggers and other parts of firearms.

“So now, we have a case that is case law that we can move forward around this country and defend our Second Amendment rights,” he said.

Congressional Authority

Unlike with other gun rights cases, the attorneys in this case—Garland v. Cargill—didn’t talk much about the Second Amendment during oral arguments.

Rather, they sought to convince the justices that the phrases “automatically” and “single function of the trigger” within federal law (The National Firearms Act) either did or didn’t apply to bump stocks.

Justice Samuel Alito filed a concurrence on June 14 that emphasized Congress’s role. Referring to the Las Vegas shooting, he said “an event that highlights the need to amend a law does not itself change the law’s meaning.”

He added: “There is a simple remedy for the disparate treatment of bump stocks and machineguns. Congress can amend the law—and perhaps would have done so already if ATF had stuck with its earlier interpretation. Now that the situation is clear, Congress can act.”

Justice Thomas’s opinion similarly highlighted how after the Las Vegas shooting in 2017, then-Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) warned that legislation was necessary to ban bump stocks.

Following the opinion’s release, President Joe Biden and other Democratic politicians responded with warnings and calls to action.

“This is a horrible decision that will undoubtedly result in more gun deaths,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said on X.

Rep. Gerry Connelly (D-Va.) called the decision “shameful” on X and called on Congress to pass a bump stock ban authored by Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.). The latter posted: “An angry lawmaker is a motivated one. This fight is far from over.”

A statement from President Biden called for Congress to “ban bump stocks, pass an assault weapon ban, and take additional action to save lives—end me a bill and I will sign it immediately.”

By contrast, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) responded by suggesting the decision restored the proper separation of powers between the executive and Congress.

“In our Constitutional republic, Congress makes the laws, not the administrative branch,” he wrote on X. “The Supreme Court just acknowledged this in a 6 to 3 decision invalidating Trump’s bump-stock ban.”

Gun rights groups celebrated the decision.

“The Supreme Court has properly restrained executive branch agencies to their role of enforcing, and not making, the law,” Randy Kozuch, executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, said in a statement provided to The Epoch Times. “This decision will be pivotal to the NRA’s future challenges of ATF regulations.”

Gun Owners of America Director of Federal Affairs Aidan Johnston released a statement on the decision: “The ATF’s unilateral 180 on this issue was illegal from the start, and I’m now looking into the best way to seek compensation from ATF for being forced to destroy my legal firearm accessory in violation of my Second Amendment rights. I have already begun the process of 3D printing another bump stock.”

Single Function of the Trigger

Much of the debate during oral argument in February focused on whether bump stocks allow a single trigger pull to initiate a process by which bullets are rapidly released.

Jonathan Mitchell, the New Civil Liberties Alliance attorney arguing for Michael Cargill, repeatedly emphasized during oral argument that bump stocks only allow one bullet per trigger pull. He also argued that firing with bump stocks doesn’t meet the statutory language of “single function of the trigger” because of grammatical reasons and the fact that bump stock users have to apply pressure to maintain accelerated fire.

Principal Deputy Solicitor General Brian Fletcher and Justice Ketanji Brown-Jackson suggested instead that bump stocks allow users to initiate a process with the bump stock after a single pull of the trigger.

In his majority opinion, Justice Thomas asserted that “nothing changes when a semiautomatic rifle is equipped with a bump stock.”

He added: “The firing cycle remains the same. Between every shot, the shooter must release pressure from the trigger and allow it to reset before reengaging the trigger for another shot. A bump stock merely reduces the amount of time that elapses between separate ‘functions’ of the trigger.”

He likened the device to a shooter who has a “lightning-fast trigger finger.”

Justice Sotomayor criticized the majority opinion for “maintaining a myopic focus on a trigger’s mechanics rather than on how a shooter uses a trigger to initiate fire.”

She added that “when a shooter initiates the firing sequence on a bump-stock-equipped semiautomatic rifle, he does so with ‘a single function of the trigger’ under that term’s ordinary meaning.”

From The Epoch Times