US Supreme Court strikes down Trump-era ban on bump stocks, gun accessories used in 2017 massacre

It ruled the device does not convert a semi-automatic rifle into a machine gun.

ByDevin Dwyer ABCNews logo
Friday, June 14, 2024
US Supreme Court strikes down ban on firearm bump stocks
The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Trump-era ban on bump stocks Friday, which was a gun accessory used in the deadly 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting.

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday invalidated a Trump-era ban on bump stocks, ruling the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives wrongly classified firearms equipped with a bump stock as machine guns.

The 6-3 opinion was authored by Justice Clarence Thomas. The court's three liberal justices, led by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, dissented.

The court ruled a semiautomatic rifle equipped with a bump stock is not a "machinegun" under federal law "because it does not fire more than one shot 'by a single function of the trigger.'"

"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 rifle into a 'machinegun.' We hold that it does not," Thomas wrote.

More than 700,000 bump stocks were sold since 2009 after the Obama-era ATF approved the manufacture and sale. The bump stock, which is non-mechanical, can simulate an automatic weapon, firing 400-800 rounds per minute. A fully automatic weapon, such as a M16 rifle, shoots 700-950 rounds per minute.

The ATF ban on the accessory was created in the wake of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history when a gunman opened fire at Las Vegas music festival in 2017. Fifty-eight people were killed and hundreds of others wounded.

Sotomayor, in her dissent, noted the gunman in that tragedy used the device to create rapid fire.

"When I see a bird that walks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duck," Sotomayor wrote. "A bump-stock-equipped semiautomatic rifle fires 'automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger.'"

Sotomayor added, "Today's decision to reject that ordinary understanding will have deadly consequences. The majority's artificially narrow definition hamstrings the Government's efforts to keep machineguns from gunmen like the Las Vegas shooter."

Everytown for Gun Safety, one of the nation's largest gun control advocacy groups, decried the court's decision as "putting millions at risk of harm."

President Joe Biden, in the wake of the ruling, issued a statement calling on Congress to ban bump stocks as well as assault weapons.

But given the narrow partisan divide on Capitol Hill, the influence of the gun lobby and election-year campaign politics -- immediate legislative action in response to the court's ruling is unlikely, even though a ban did have some bipartisan support in 2017.

"Today's decision strikes down an important gun safety regulation. Americans should not have to live in fear of this mass devastation," Biden said.

Trump's campaign, on the other hand, said the court's decision "should be respected" and that the "right to keep and bear arms has never been more critical." The statement, however, did not address the fact that the ATF imposed the ban during his administration.