Editorial: Bumping against the law: Supreme Court's bump stock ruling misses the point

New York Daily News Editorial Board, New York Daily News on

Published in Political News

In a 6-3 ruling along ideological lines Friday, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority decided that congressional intent be damned in siding with a plaintiff who had sued against the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ determination that bump stocks basically turned legal firearms into prohibited machine guns.

The ruling penned by Justice Clarence Thomas tortured the dictionary in differentiating shots fired from a single pull of a trigger to those fired as a bump stock keeps a weapon pushing up against a shooter’s trigger pull.

Being a lawyer of any kind, particularly one charged with issuing the final say on the meaning of law and the Constitution, comes with a certain amount of parsing technicalities. That’s inevitable, but also gives justices cover to lean so heavily on the technicalities as to basically ignore everything else.

As into the weeds of definitions as this decision tries to get, the question that was before the justices was a simple one: what is a bump stock, exactly? What does it do?

Bump stocks are additions to firearms that permit them to fire automatically, and no, just because the motion that allows automatic firing happens outside versus inside the weapon doesn’t mean this isn’t what’s happening while the trigger is squeezed. This automatic rate of fire makes the gun what’s known colloquially and under law as a “machine gun.” Both these guns and accessories that convert other guns into them are banned, which makes the bump stocks unlawful under federal law. That’s it.

Questions over whether the movement of the gun around the depressed trigger count as separate actuations of the trigger are distractions from the basic and obvious truth that everyone — from the gun restriction groups to the people who actually make, market and sell the bump stocks themselves — knows well.


When even the manufacturers sell the stocks explicitly as implements to permit an automatic rate of fire, the majority justices are being willfully pedantic to contradict them and the federal agency charged with regulating firearms on a technicality.

The 60 people slaughtered and hundreds injured by the Las Vegas Mandalay Bay shooter in 2017 certainly couldn’t tell the difference between rifles modified internally or externally as the gunman rained down up to 100 rounds in a single burst of gunfire. Had the shooter used what Thomas et al believe to be a real machine gun versus semiautomatic rifles equipped with bump stocks, would the outcome have been any different? Would the concertgoers be any less dead?

The answers are no, and as Justice Sonia Sotomayor pointed out in her dissent, every single one of the majority justices has previously written that it is not the role of judges to parse statutes with such a fine-tooth comb that they end up subverting the will of Congress, which is the entity that is supposed to be creating the laws.

Speaking of Thomas, it turned out that the honorable justice took even more undisclosed trips on the private jet of billionaire patron Harlan Crow, as just revealed. It’s nice to have rich pals to treat you. It’s nicer to hold true to principles of the law, which Thomas didn’t do in this case.


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