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 Political News

Since 1934, Congress has restricted machine guns, which were defined as "any weapon which shoots ... automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger."

Prior to 2017, ATF said bump stock devices were not machine guns because the shooter had to press forward on the barrel as the recoil bumped or triggered another shot.

But after Trump's order, ATF changed its position.

Its new rule said bump stocks were illegal machine guns because they function as "a self-acting or self-regulating mechanism that allows the firing of multiple rounds through a single function of the trigger."

A bump stock is a plastic or metal piece that fits over the barrel. ATF says it rests against a shooter's shoulder and "allows a semi-automatic firearm to shoot more than one shot with a single pull of the trigger by harnessing the recoil energy ... so that the trigger resets and continues firing without additional physical manipulation of the trigger by the shooter."

By 2018, when the ATF regulation took effect, about 520,000 bump stock devices were in the hands of gun owners and dealers. The agency said they must be destroyed or turned in.

Gun owners sued to challenge the new regulation. They lost in the U.S. appeals court in Denver, Cincinnati and Washington, D.C., but won before the 5th Circuit Court in New Orleans.


Michael Cargill, a gun shop owner in Austin, Texas, had sued and argued the government should not be permitted to change its rules and take away legally purchased weapons. He won a 13-3 decision in the 5th Circuit, whose judges said bump stocks do not work "automatically" like a machine gun because the shooter must "maintain manual, forward pressure on the barrel" to keep firing.

In dissent, Judge Stephen Higginson faulted the majority for revising an ambiguous law "to legalize an instrument of mass murder."

In November, the court agreed to hear the case of Garland vs. Cargill to decide the legality of the ATF regulation. The Second Amendment right to bear arms is not directly at issue.

California and 16 other states had already prohibited bump stocks, but state attorneys said those bans will be harder to enforce if bump stocks can be legally purchased in other parts of the nation.


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