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Supreme Court strikes down federal ban on bump stocks

The Supreme Court on Friday struck down a federal bump stock ban, ruling that the attachment for weapons that greatly increases their capability for rapid fire does not make them machine guns as defined in a federal ban against such weapons. File Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI
The Supreme Court on Friday struck down a federal bump stock ban, ruling that the attachment for weapons that greatly increases their capability for rapid fire does not make them machine guns as defined in a federal ban against such weapons. File Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI | License Photo

June 14 (UPI) -- The Supreme Court on Friday struck down a ban on bump stocks on semiautomatic weapons implemented after the 2017 mass shooting at a Las Vegas concert in which the shooter used the attachment to kill 58 people.

In a 6-3 decision, along the court's conservative-liberal split, the court said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives did not have the authority to institute the ban as the federal law that bans machine guns from the public should not extend to bump stocks, which are attachments that allow semiautomatic weapons to fire off hundreds of rounds in a single pull of a trigger.

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"This case asks whether a bump stock -- an accessory for a semiautomatic rifle that allows the shooter to rapidly reengage the trigger (and therefore achieve a high rate of fire) -- converts the rife into a 'machine gun.' We hold that it does not and therefore affirm," Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the court's opinion.

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The Justice Department in December 2018 moved to ban bump stocks ruling that they effectively rendered firearms into machine guns.

The decision came after shooter Stephen Paddock used bump stock-equipped firearms to spray an outdoors crowd attending a country music festival featuring Jason Aldean with bullets within seconds in 2017, killing more than four dozen people on the grounds.

Mark Chenoweth, president of New Civil Liberties Alliance, who represented the Texas man who issued the challenge in the case praised Friday's ruling, saying actions by Congress following the shooting did not ban bump stocks and "ATF does not have the power to do so on its own."

"This result is completely consistent with the Constitution's assignment of all legislative power to Congress. Bump-stock opponents should direct any views at Congress, not the court, which faithfully applied the statute in front of it."

In dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the majority appeared to split hairs to come up with a difference between a bump stock-equipped semiautomatic weapon and the action of a machine gun.

"When a shooter initiates the firing sequence on a bump stock-equipped semiautomatic rifle, he does so with 'a single function of the trigger' under the term's ordinary meaning," she wrote.

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"Just as the shooter of an M16 need only pull the trigger and maintain backward pressure (on the trigger), a shooter of a bump-stock-equipped AR-15 needs only pull the trigger and maintain forward pressure (on the gun). Both shooters pull the trigger only once to fire multiple shots."

Justice Samuel Alito wrote a concurring opinion stating that weapons equipped with a bump stock are practically very similar to machine guns but placed the burden on lawmakers to institute a ban.

"There is a simple remedy for the disparate treatment of bump stocks and machine guns," he wrote." Congress can amend the law -- and perhaps would have done so already if ATF had stuck with its earlier interpretation. Now that the situation is clear Congress can act."

President Joe Biden issued a statement saying the Supreme Court decision "strikes down an important gun safety regulation" while also urging action from Congress.

"We know thoughts and prayers are not enough," Biden said. "I call on Congress to ban bump stocks, pass an assault weapon ban and take additional action to save lives -- send me a bill and I will sign it immediately."

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