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Supreme Court rejects gun rights challenge to bump stocks ban

The Trump administration imposed the ban after the mass shooting in Las Vegas in 2017.
A bump stock device, right, that fits on a semi-automatic rifle to increase the firing speed, making it similar to a fully automatic rifle, is held next to a AK-47 semi-automatic rifle at a gun store
A bump stock device, right, which fits on a semi-automatic rifle to increase the firing speed, is held next to an AK-47 semi-automatic rifle at a gun store in Salt Lake City in 2017.George Frey / Getty Images file

The Supreme Court on Monday rejected a new effort to expand gun rights by declining to hear a challenge to a Trump-era ban on so-called bump stocks, which allow semi-automatic rifles to fire more quickly.

The decision not to hear the two related cases, a blow for gun rights activists, leaves the ban in place. The conservative-majority court issued a major ruling in June that expanded gun rights, although the legal issues in the bump stock cases were different.

Bump stocks are accessories for semi-automatic rifles, such as the popular AR-15-style weapons. They use the recoil energy of a trigger pull to enable the user to fire up to hundreds of rounds a minute.

In a rare example of a Republican administration’s taking action on gun control, President Donald Trump’s administration imposed the ban after the mass shooting in Las Vegas in 2017, when Stephen Paddock used bump stocks to open fire on a country music festival, killing 58 people. Paddock died by suicide as he was about to be apprehended.

The ban, implemented by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, went into effect in 2019 after the Supreme Court declined to block it. Since then, the already conservative court has tilted further to the right, with conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett, a Trump appointee, replacing liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died in 2020.

The court, with its new 6-3 conservative majority, ruled for the first time in the June gun rights decision that the right to bear arms under the Constitution’s Second Amendment protects an individual right to carry a handgun outside the home. The ruling was the most significant expansion of gun rights since the Supreme Court held in 2008 that there was an individual right to bear arms in self-defense at home.  

The bump stocks challenge, however, did not deal directly with the scope of the right to bear arms under the Second Amendment. The challengers instead said the government did not have authority to ban bump stocks under the National Firearms Act, a law enacted in 1934 to regulate machine guns. In 1968, the Gun Control Act expanded the definition of machine gun to include accessories “for use in converting a weapon” into a machine gun, and the ATF concluded when it issued the ban that bump stocks meet that definition.

The groups challenging the ban said the legal definition of machine gun has been distorted beyond recognition and argue that courts should not defer to the federal agency’s interpretation.

The court turned away two related appeals, one brought by Clark Aposhian, a Utah gun lobbyist who had purchased a bump stock before the ban took effect, and another led by Gun Owners of America and other gun rights groups. Lower courts upheld the ban, although judges on the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals were divided in both cases.

In June, some Republican in Congress joined Democrats in enacting the first legislation to reduce gun violence in decades. Momentum was spurred by another mass shooting, this time at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, a month earlier, in which 19 schoolchildren and two teachers were killed.