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U.S. Supreme Court strikes down federal ban on bump stocks, a blow to anti-gun campaigners

In a significant ruling on Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court declared a federal ban on “bump stock” devices unlawful. These devices enable semiautomatic weapons to fire rapidly like machine guns. The court’s decision, which rejected another firearms restriction enacted under former President Donald Trump, is a setback for anti-gun campaigners.

In a 6-3 ruling authored by conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s decision in favour of Michael Cargill, a gun shop owner and gun rights advocate from Austin, Texas. Cargill challenged the ban, arguing that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) improperly interpreted a federal law banning machine guns to include bump stocks. The court’s conservative majority ruled in favour of Cargill, while the liberal justices dissented.

The bump stock ban was implemented in 2019 during Trump’s administration following a 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, where 58 people were killed at a country music festival. President Joe Biden, whose administration defended the rule, expressed disappointment, stating the decision “strikes down an important gun safety regulation.” Biden urged Congress to ban bump stocks and pass further legislation to curb gun violence.

Trump, who is challenging Biden in the upcoming U.S. election, had his campaign spokesperson, Karoline Leavitt, state that the court’s decision should be respected, emphasising his stance as a “fierce defender” of gun rights.


The case revolved around how the ATF interpreted the National Firearms Act, which defines machine guns as weapons that can “automatically” fire more than one shot “by a single function of the trigger.” Justice Thomas wrote, “A semiautomatic rifle equipped with a bump stock is not a ‘machine gun’ because it cannot fire more than one shot ‘by a single function of the trigger.'”

Federal law prohibits the sale or possession of machine guns, with penalties including up to 10 years in prison. Bump stocks utilise a semiautomatic recoil to allow rapid fire by “bumping” the shooter’s trigger finger.

Liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in her dissent, warned that the ruling would have “deadly consequences,” accusing the majority of embracing an “artificially narrow definition” of a machine gun. She criticized the focus on the internal mechanisms of firearms, arguing that bump stock-equipped firearms should be classified as machine guns.

Following the Las Vegas shooting, Trump’s administration had reversed the ATF’s previous stance, classifying bump stocks under the National Firearms Act. However, conservative Justice Samuel Alito, in a concurring opinion, stated, “The horrible shooting spree in Las Vegas in 2017 did not change the statutory text or its meaning. Congress can now act to amend existing laws.”


The Supreme Court, with its conservative majority, has taken an expansive view of gun rights, previously striking down gun restrictions in major cases in 2008, 2010, and 2022. This ruling, however, did not focus on the Second Amendment.

Mark Chenoweth, president of the conservative legal group New Civil Liberties Alliance, which represented Cargill, praised the ruling, stating, “The statute Congress passed did not ban bump stocks, and ATF does not have the power to do so on its own.”

John Feinblatt, president of the gun control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety, urged Congress to outlaw bump stocks, stating, “Guns outfitted with bump stocks fire like machine guns, they kill like machine guns, and they should be banned like machine guns.”

The ruling by the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year also sided with Cargill. As the nation remains deeply divided over gun violence, with Biden calling it a “national embarrassment,” this ruling further highlights the contentious debate. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on another gun rights case by the end of June, concerning the legality of a federal law that prohibits individuals under domestic violence restraining orders from possessing guns.


Source: Reuters

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