WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to decide a challenge to a federal ban on bump stocks, a device that lets a shooter fire a semi-automatic rifle more like a machine gun – putting the nation’s divisive debate over guns on the high court’s docket for the second time this term.
The decision to take the case came days after a gunman carried out the deadliest mass shooting in the U.S. this year, killing 18 people in Maine. But the device and the ban are associated with a 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas in which 58 people were killed immediately and others died later.
While the ban is opposed by gun rights advocates, the legal question in the cases dealt not with the Second Amendment but rather with whether the Trump administration, which imposed the bump stock ban, exceeded its authority under a federal law enacted in 1986 that deals with machine guns. Following the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives interpreted the 1986 law’s definition of machine guns to include bump stocks.
Bump stocks use the kickback of a semi-automatic firearm to mimic automatic firing. Multiple challenges to the ban have been working through federal courts for years.
“Congress did not ban all new machine guns only to allow the ban to be circumvented by a trivial shift in the locus of the shooter’s pressure from the trigger to the fore-grip, the barrel, a button, or any other similar contrivance,” the Biden administration told the Supreme Court in its appeal. The bottom line, the administration said, is that “a single function of the trigger initiates an automatic sequence of firing more than one shot.”
Michael Cargill, a gun shop owner and gun rights advocate from Austin, Texas, sued the government over the ban. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Cargill and the Biden administration appealed.
In its decision, the appeals court said that the government was seeking to ban bump stocks “by administrative fiat,” even though the ATF had previously permitted the devices.
“But even if we are wrong, the statute is at least ambiguous in this regard,” the appeals court said in its decision. “And if the statute is ambiguous, Congress must cure that ambiguity, not the federal courts.”
The Supreme Court is already set to decide a major Second Amendment challenge to a federal law that bans people who are subject to domestic violence restraining orders from owning guns. The high court will hear oral arguments in that case next week.
With the bump stock ban, the Supreme Court has added another high-profile case to a term that already includes appeals over social media and the First Amendment as well as the power of federal agencies to approve regulations without the express authority of Congress.
“Guns equipped with bump stocks can cause massive devastation. These are devices that fire like machine guns and kill like machine guns, so it’s a no-brainer that they should be regulated like machine guns,” said Nick Suplina, senior vice president for law and policy at Everytown for Gun Safety. The justices will likely hear arguments early next year and decision is expected by June.
Source: USA Today