Supreme Court Won’t Hear Challenge to Gun Bump Stock Ban

2022-10-09 08:22:31 By : Ms. Michelle Yu

The U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 3 rejected two challenges to the federal government’s ban on gun bump stocks that were imposed following the Las Vegas mass shooting in 2017.

Bump stocks are devices that allow semi-automatic weapons to increase their rate of fire. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) reversed a previous conclusion and classified bump stocks as forbidden under a 1934 U.S. law called the National Firearms Act.

Gun rights groups, including Gun Owners of America, and a Utah-based gun rights advocate brought several cases to the nine Supreme Court justices to reverse the ban. They made no comments in declining to hear them (pdf), which were among several cases that the court declined to hear on the first day of the high court’s new term.

Clark Aposhian, the Utah gun-rights advocate, sued to halt the ban in 2019, challenging the ATF’s authority in reclassifying bump stocks as forbidden machine guns. After a federal judge refused to grant him an injunction early in the case, Aposhian surrendered his device, pending the outcome of the litigation.

Separately, gun owner advocacy groups including Gun Owners of America and three of its individual members sued in federal court in Michigan to block the bump stock ban from taking effect. The Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2021 upheld the ban.

After the Supreme Court’s Oct. 3 ruling, Gun Owners of America issued a statement saying the ban sets a “dangerous precedent” that will give the federal government broader powers to regulate firearms.

“This decision sets a horrible and dangerous precedent, one that will allow the ATF to further arbitrarily regulate various firearms,” the group wrote on Twitter. “This very same precedent is already being abused by Joe Biden to ban millions of lawfully purchased pistols even without an ACT of Congress!”

Earlier this year, lawyers for the Biden administration urged the Supreme Court to stay out of the dispute over the ATF rule.

The ATF had “determined that bump stocks are machine guns under the statue, not that the agency had discretionary authority under the statute to classify them as machine guns,” Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar argued in a court filing.

“ATF’s interpretation reflects the best understanding of the statutory language,” she wrote.

A bump stock uses the recoil action of a semi-automatic rifle to simulate fully automatic firing.

In 2017, the ATF rule banning bump stocks stipulated “that [bump stocks] are ‘machineguns’ as defined by the National Firearms Act of 1934 and the Gun Control Act of 1968” as these devices “allow a shooter of a semiautomatic firearm to initiate a continuous firing cycle with a single pull of the trigger.”

When the rule was proposed about five years ago, the agency estimated that Americans possessed about 520,000 bump stocks. The ban required them to either be relinquished or destroyed.

The ban on bump stocks took effect in 2019 as a result of the October 2017 mass shooting that left 58 dead in Las Vegas. Stephen Paddock, a high-stakes gambler, allegedly used rifles—some of which law enforcement officials say had bump stocks—to fire at a crowd of country music concertgoers.

No motive for the mass shooting has ever been established. Investigators with the FBI later said that Paddock, who had virtually no online presence and is believed to have killed himself after the rampage, may have been inspired by his criminal father’s reputation.

In June, the Supreme Court court declared for the first time that the U.S. Constitution protects an individual’s right to carry a handgun in public for self-defense. The decision handed a victory to gun rights advocates in a nation deeply divided over how to address firearm violence.

Previously, the Supreme Court declined to take up a separate legal effort by other gun rights groups in 2020 to overturn the ATF ban on bump stocks.

In a court brief (pdf) filed on Aug. 1 with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, the Firearms Policy Coalition wrote that the ATF’s redefinition of a bump stock “defies any recognizable public meaning of the language of the statute and leads to absurd results.” The group further argued that the ATF’s classification of a bump-fired rifle as a machine gun suggests that “nearly every semiautomatic firearm in existence” could fall into the new category.

The cases that the Supreme Court rejected on Oct. 3 are W. Clark Aposhian v. Merrick B. Garland, 21-159, and Gun Owners of America v. Merrick B. Garland, 21-1215.

Reuters contributed to this report.