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Supreme Court leans in favor of upholding ban on bump stocks that work like machine guns

David G. Savage, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Wednesday seemed prepared to uphold a Trump-era regulation that would outlaw "bump stocks" that work like machine guns and allow a shooter to spray hundreds of bullets per minute.

The justices, both conservative and liberal, said Congress had intended to forbid rapid-fire rifles as especially dangerous. And that would include devices that convert a legal semi-automatic gun into one that "produces a torrent of bullets with one pull of the trigger," said Justice Elena Kagan.

Justice Neil M. Gorsuch said it would have been better if Congress had revised the law after the mass shooting in Las Vegas in 2017, but he and other conservatives did not indicate they would vote to block a regulation adopted after that tragedy.

"It would have been irresponsible of AFT not to take action" after the deadliest mass shooting in the nation's history, Deputy Solicitor General Brian Fletcher told the court.

On Oct. 1, 2017, a gunman on an upper floor of a Las Vegas hotel fired off more than 1,000 rounds in 11 minutes, leaving more than 500 concertgoers injured and 58 dead. The shooter used AR-15 semi-automatic rifles equipped with bump stocks that allowed for fast, continuous firing.

Shortly afterward, President Trump ordered the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or AFT, to revise its rule and to outlaw bump stocks as illegal machine guns.

 

It is the rare instance of a gun regulation that is supported by prominent Republicans as well as Democrats, but it now faces a court whose conservative justices are often skeptical of agencies issuing new regulations reinterpreting old laws.

While they asked skeptical questions, none of the justices sounded ready to strike down the bump stock rule.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor questioned the need for such devices. "Why would a person choose to fire 400 to 800 rounds per minute?" she asked.

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson said the bump stock allows an AR-15 to operate like a machine gun. "These weapons are what Congress intended to prohibit," she said.

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