The Supreme Court has agreed to examine the question of whether the Trump administration’s ban on bump stocks violates federal law. These attachments enable semi-automatic firearms to fire rapidly, resembling machine guns. The move comes following a regulation implemented by the Justice Department in response to the tragic mass shooting in Las Vegas back in 2017.
Divergent Views in the Courts
Various federal appeals courts have reached conflicting conclusions regarding the conformity of the regulation classifying bump stocks as machine guns with federal law. The Supreme Court will now scrutinize an appeal made by the Biden administration contesting a ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, which invalidated the ban.
Distinct from Second Amendment Rights
It is important to note that this case does not pertain directly to the Second Amendment right to “keep and bear arms.” Rather, it centers around the question of whether the Trump administration adhered to federal law when modifying the bump stock regulation.
Background: Las Vegas Shooting
The ban on bump stocks was instituted in 2019 as a response to the tragic Las Vegas shooting. During this horrific incident, a retired postal service worker and high-stakes gambler utilized assault-style rifles equipped with bump stocks and high-capacity magazines. Within just 11 minutes, over 1,000 rounds were fired into a crowd of 22,000 music fans, resulting in the loss of 58 lives with hundreds more sustaining injuries.
The Supreme Court is currently considering another case related to gun rights, specifically focusing on a federal law intending to restrict access to firearms for individuals subject to domestic violence restraining orders.
The Trump Administration’s Ban on Bump Stocks
The Trump administration’s recent ban on bump stocks has sparked significant debate and controversy. This decision marks a complete reversal of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)’s previous stance on these firearm accessories. In 2010, during the Obama administration, the ATF categorically stated that bump stocks should not be classified as machine guns and therefore should not be subject to federal law bans.
However, following the tragic Las Vegas shooting, government officials reassessed this determination and concluded that it was erroneous. Bump stocks are devices designed to utilize the recoil energy of a semi-automatic firearm. They enable a shooter to fire multiple rounds continuously without needing to manually manipulate the trigger after each shot. This mechanism allows for rapid, automatic-like firing.
Legal records reveal that using a bump stock requires the shooter to exert constant forward pressure on the weapon with their non-shooting hand while consistently applying pressure on the trigger with their trigger finger.
The interpretation of whether bump stocks should be classified as machine guns has become the subject of legal disputes. The U.S. 5th Circuit Court issued a ruling in January, with a majority vote of 13-3, stating that Congress would need to amend existing federal law in order to enforce a ban on bump stocks. Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod, speaking for the 5th Circuit, stated that the definition of “machinegun” as outlined in the National Firearms Act and Gun Control Act does not encompass bump stocks.
However, a different conclusion was reached by a panel of three judges on the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. Judge Robert Wilkins wrote on behalf of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, asserting that, based on the most accurate interpretation of the statute, bump stocks can be seen as self-regulating mechanisms that enable shooters to fire multiple shots with each pull of the trigger, effectively qualifying them as machine guns under both the National Firearms Act and Gun Control Act.
The case of Garland v. Cargill, 22-976, is currently awaiting a decision, which is expected to be reached early this summer. The outcome of this case will greatly impact the future legality and regulation of bump stocks in the United States.