Supreme Court Overturns Trump-Era Ban on Bump Stocks for Guns

The Supreme Court has struck down a federal ban on “bump stocks,” a firearm accessory that allows semi-automatic rifles to fire more quickly than with a standard stock.

The legality of bump stocks garnered renewed scrutiny in 2017, after a gunman used one to shoot and and kill 60 people — and injured more than 400 others — during a mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 on Friday that the 1934 National Firearms Act’s ban on the public sale of fully automatic weapons, or machine guns, cannot be interpreted to cover a ban on the use of bump stocks. The court’s six conservatives ruled to overturn the bump-stock ban, while its three liberal justices dissented.

Writing for the majority, Justice Clarence Thomas admitted that “bumping” semi-automatic weapons essentially allows a shooter to fire off multiple rounds by using the recoil on a rifle’s shot to bump the trigger off the shooter’s finger to create a momentum-based firing loop with little active engagement from the person holding the rifle. But, in the conservative’s view, since the trigger is making contact with the trigger finger “As with any semiautomatic firearm, the trigger still must be released and reengaged to fire each additional shot.”

Thomas acknowledged that during the Las Vegas shooting, “the gunman equipped his weapons with bump stocks, which allowed him to fire hundreds of rounds in a matter of minutes.”

To be exact, the shooting lasted just around 10 minutes, with the gunman firing off approximately 1,057 rounds throughout the attack. Alas, the conservative majority held that “a semiautomatic rifle equipped with a bump stock is not a “machinegun” because it cannot fire more than one shot ‘by a single function of the trigger.’ And, even if it could, it would not do so ‘automatically.’”

Liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor took a sledgehammer to the argument in her dissent.  “Today, the Court puts bump stocks back in civilian hands,” Sotomayor wrote. “To do so, it casts aside Congress’s definition of ‘machinegun’ and seizes upon one that is inconsistent with the ordinary meaning of the statutory text and unsupported by context or purpose. 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. A bump-stock-equipped semiautomatic rifle fires ‘automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger.’ Because I, like Congress, call that a machinegun, I respectfully dissent.”

The federal ban on bump stocks was implemented under the administration of former President Donald Trump. In 2018, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) clarified that the National Firearms Act supported a ban on bump stocks. The rule change was challenged in 2019 by a coalition of firearms dealers and Second Amendment activists in Texas. The Supreme Court declined to take up a challenge to the rule in 2020. Eighteen states have implemented their own bans on the sale of the firearm accessories.

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