US supreme court to hear arguments over bump stock ban

The US supreme court will hear arguments in a case that could determine whether bump stocks, a firearm accessory that allows semiautomatic weapons to fire like machine guns, will be allowed back on to the civilian market. The result of this case could also determine whether the US Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) can regulate other weapons and accessories like pistol braces and homemade firearms known as ghost guns.

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The court will have to determine whether bump stocks are banned based on the statutory definition of a machine gun in the 1986 National Firearms Act, which encompasses any part that is intended to convert a semiautomatic firearm into a fully automatic one.

Bump stocks came into public view in October 2017 after a lone gunman opened fire from a Las Vegas hotel suite into a nearby country music festival and killed 58 people and injured 500 others. It is the largest mass shooting in modern US history.

After the shooting, then president Donald Trump asked his administration to review how bump stocks were regulated. Trump later directed the US Department of Justice to craft ban regulations after a 19-year-old killed 17 students in February 2018 at a high school in Parkland, Florida, although the shooter didn’t use a bump stock in the slaying.

The ATF reclassified bump stocks as machine guns, which made owning a bump stock illegal and represented a sharp reversal from the bureau’s previous stance on the item.

Bump stocks were created in 2008 by Jeremiah Cottle, a Texas-based air force veteran, and are typically made of plastic and attached to the stock, the back part of the rifle that is held against the shooter’s shoulder. They use the recoil of a semiautomatic firearm to imitate the action of a machine gun.

While the fire rate can mimic that of a machine gun, which only requires a single trigger pull to fire off multiple rounds, the trigger on a gun outfitted with a bump stock resets after each round is fired and has to be actuated before another round is expelled.

On 25 March 2019, Michael Cargill, the Texas gun shop owner and firearm instructor whose case worked its way to the supreme court’s docket, surrendered his bump stocks to the government. That same day he filed a complaint in the district court of western Texas against then attorney general William Barr, the US Department of Justice, the acting director of the ATF and the ATF itself.

This is the second firearm policy case the supreme court has heard since its high-profile decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v Bruen in 2022, which overturned New York’s handgun law and created a “history and tradition” test for firearm regulation.

The first post-Bruen case, United States v Rahimi, focuses on whether people who are under domestic violence restraining orders should be allowed to own a gun.

That case was directly tied to the 2022 decision, as arguments at the time focused on a federal law that prohibits anyone under a domestic violence restraining order from possessing guns. The Cargill case, on the other hand, focuses less on whether or not bump stock bans violate the second amendment and precedent set by Bruen and more on whether the ATF overstepped with its interpretation of the federal machine gun ban.

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