The Supreme Court agreed Friday to rule on whether the government can ban the sale or use of “bump stocks” that can turn a semiautomatic rifle into one that fires hundreds of rounds per minute with a single pull of the trigger.
Since 1934, federal law has banned machine guns, but there has been controversy over whether one type of machine gun can be outlawed.
The government was prompted to pass new regulations after a Las Vegas shooter used semi-automatic weapons equipped with bump stocks to kill 58 people and injure more than 500 others. Officials said the bump stocks allowed the shooter to quickly fire “several hundred rounds” into a crowd gathered for an outdoor concert on Oct. 1, 2017.
Congress did not revise the law, but the Trump administration through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives issued new rules in 2018 that classified bump stocks as machine guns that were prohibited by law. He said the bump stock device works as “a self-acting or self-adjusting mechanism that allows multiple rounds to be fired through a single pull of the trigger.”
The regulations were challenged across the country, but were upheld by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, the 6th Circuit Court in Cincinnati and the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
But the conservative 5th Circuit Court in New Orleans handed down a split 13-3 decision in January that found the regulation illegal. Several reviewers said bump stocks don’t work with just a single pull of the trigger, and others said it was unclear whether they could qualify as machine guns.
Attorney General Elizabeth Prelogar appealed the ruling from the 5th Circuit and urged the justices to resolve the dispute as soon as possible.
Until the ruling is reversed, “manufacturers within the 5th Circuit (which includes Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi) will be able to manufacture and sell bump stocks to individuals without a background check and without registering or serializing the devices,” it said. Prelogar on appeal.
Attorneys for Michael Cargill, a Texas gun dealer who sued to challenge the regulation, also urged the court to hear the case.
“The definition of “gun” is an important issue of statutory construction that affects many Americans. Breaking the ring leaves citizens across the country in a quandary as to whether owning a vehicle is illegal and could land them 10 years in prison,” they said.
They told the court that according to the bureau’s estimates, more than 520,000 bump stocks were bought in the years before the new regulation was approved in 2018.
Unlike other gun controversies, the case is not about the 2nd Amendment and the right to bear arms.
On Tuesday, the court will hear arguments in a major test of the 2nd Amendment. At issue is a 5th Circuit Court ruling that struck down a federal law that denies firearms to someone subject to a domestic violence restraining order.
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