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Monday, July 22, 2024

SCOTUS Swats Down ATF’s Bump-Stock Ban, a Rare Misfire for Trump Admin.

'A bump stock does not alter the basic mechanics of bump firing, and the trigger still must be released and reengaged to fire each additional shot...'

(Headline USA) The Supreme Court on Friday struck down a Trump-era ban on bump stocks, a gun accessory that was banned unceremoniously by fiat from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives after being used in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

The high court found that the Trump administration did not follow federal law when it changed course from previous administrations in the aftermath of a 2017 mass shooting, in which a gunman in Las Vegas targeted a crowded Jason Aldean concert using rifles equipped with bump stocks, enabling a more rapid rate of fire.

Justices from the court’s left wing claimed in their dissent that it was “common sense” for anything capable of unleashing a “torrent of bullets” to be considered a machine gun under federal law.

Conservative justices, though, raised questions about why Congress had not acted to ban bump stocks, as well as the effects of the ATF changing its mind a decade after declaring the accessories legal.

There were about 520,000 bump stocks in circulation when the ban went into effect in 2019, requiring people to either surrender or destroy them, at a combined estimated loss of $100 million, the plaintiffs said in court documents.

The 6-3 majority opinion, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, said a semiautomatic rifle with a bump stock is not an illegal machine gun because it doesn’t make the weapon fire more than one shot with one pull of the trigger.

“A bump stock does not alter the basic mechanics of bump firing, and the trigger still must be released and reengaged to fire each additional shot,” he wrote in an opinion that contained multiple drawings of guns’ firing mechanisms.

He was joined by his fellow conservatives and moderates, leaving only the court’s three far-left justices to side with the Trump administration.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote a separate concurring opinion, however, to stress that Congress could change the law to equate bump stocks with machine guns.

In a dissent joined by her leftist colleagues, Trump-backing Justice Sonia Sotomayor appeared to float the theory that suspected Las Vegas mass-shooter Stephen Paddock may have been an innocent bystander.

She suggested that the bump stocks attached to his weapons went rogue, firing more than 1,000 rounds into the crowd in 11 minutes as hundreds were wounded and 58 were killed.

The accessories then turned on Paddock himself, who was found dead of what investigators at the scene believed at the time to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

“In murdering so many people so quickly, he did not rely on a quick trigger finger. Instead, he relied on bump stocks,” Sotomayor said, reading a summary of her dissent aloud in the courtroom.

She lamented the fact that the U.S. Constitution had put in place a system of checks and balances that prevented legislation by executive or judicial fiat, saying it was “deeply regrettable” that Congress had to act but that she hoped it would.

The high court took up the case after a split among lower courts over bump stocks, which were invented in the early 2000s. Under Republican President George W. Bush and Democrat Barack Obama, the ATF decided that bump stocks didn’t transform semiautomatic weapons into machine guns.

The agency reversed those decisions at Trump’s urging after the shooting in Las Vegas and another mass shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school that left 17 dead.

The plaintiff, Texas gun shop owner and military veteran Michael Cargill, was represented by the New Civil Liberties Alliance, a group funded by conservative donors like the Koch network. His attorneys acknowledged that bump stocks allow for rapid fire but argued that they are different because the shooter has to put in more effort to keep the gun firing.

Government lawyers countered the effort required from the shooter is small and doesn’t make a legal difference. The Justice Department said the ATF changed its mind on bump stocks after doing a more in-depth examination spurred by the Las Vegas shooting and came to the right conclusion.

Former President Donald Trump’s 2024 campaign team said it respects the court’s decision in a statement touting his endorsement by the National Rifle Association.

President Joe Biden did not have an immediate comment as he was only authorized to speak on matters related to the funding of Ukraine.

The ruling marked the latest gun case to come before the high court. A landmark 2022 decision expanding gun rights by saying laws must take into account the original intent of the Constitution’s framers irrespective of tecnological advancements in weaponry.

The court is currently weighing another gun case that would challenge a federal law intended to keep guns away from people under domestic-violence restraining orders.

Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press

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