The Supreme Court agreed on Friday to decide whether the Trump administration had acted lawfully in banning bump stocks, the attachments that enable semiautomatic rifles to fire in sustained, rapid bursts.
In Supreme Court briefs, the Biden administration urged the justices to uphold the ban, endorsing a rare move by the Trump administration to curtail gun violence.
The devices were used by a gunman to kill 58 people and wound hundreds of others at a Las Vegas concert in October 2017.
After the shootings, Justice Department officials initially said that the executive branch did not have the authority to ban bump stocks without congressional action. The department later changed course, determining it could ban the devices on its own.
The case concerns executive power, not the Second Amendment. Challengers have argued that the regulation, which went into effect in 2019, was not authorized by federal laws that largely ban machine guns.
The National Firearms Act of 1934 defines a machine gun as “any weapon which shoots, is designed to shoot, or can be readily restored to shoot, automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger.” The Gun Control Act of 1968 expanded the definition to include parts that can be used to convert a weapon into a machine gun.
Lawyers for the government told the Supreme Court that bump stocks may be regulated under those laws.
Quoting earlier findings, the brief said that “the Las Vegas mass shooter, for example, ‘was able to fire several hundred rounds of ammunition in a short period of time’ using bump stocks, ‘killing 58 people and wounding approximately 500’ in a matter of minutes.”
Federal appeals courts have issued conflicting rulings on whether the regulation was authorized by the laws. By one count, appeals courts have issued 22 opinions spanning some 350 pages.
“And yet,” one of the challengers told the Supreme Court“the purchase of 520,000 bump stocks, the expected loss of property in excess of $100 million, the lack of national uniformity in the sale and possession of bump stocks and the nonlegislative, unilateral criminalization of previously legal conduct all remain in controversy and dispute. ”
Bump stocks work by harnessing a firearm’s recoil energy to allow it to keep firing after a single pull of the trigger. The Justice Department says this transforms semiautomatic weapons into machine guns subject to the federal laws.
The challengers disagree. “A weapon is not a machine gun if something more is required of the shooter than a single function of the trigger to produce more than one shot,” a Supreme Court brief said. But, the brief added, “the shooter must do considerably more than pull the trigger once if he wishes the weapon to fire multiple shots.”
Quoting from the regulation, the challengers wrote that “producing a second shot requires the shooter to place ‘forward pressure on the barrel-shroud or fore-grip of the rifle while simultaneously ‘maintaining the trigger finger on the device’s ledge with constant rearward pressure. ‘”