Supreme Court Bump Stock Case Starts Today

by Tommy Grant

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Today is the day the U.S. Supreme Court will be considering the case challenging the nearly 5-year-old Justice Department rule banning the sale and possession of bump stocks.

The case Cargill v. Garland revolves around the 2019 decision by the Trump Justice Department and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to redefine bump stock devices as “machineguns.” As most TTAG readers likely know, bump stocks use the recoil of a semi-automatic rifle to bump the trigger, increasing the rate of fire.

But a bump stock isn’t a machine gun. In fact, it’s not even a firearm at all. The same rate of fire can be produced using something as simple as a belt loop, which also, incidentally, isn’t a machine gun or a firearm.

The defendant in the case contends that the DOJ overstepped its authority by declaring bump stocks to be machine guns. And in fact, the ATF had determined that bump stocks were not machine guns on 10 separate occasions from 2008 to 2017. The 2019 ruling completely ignored that fact.

The case came up from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, where the court ruled that a bump stock was not a machine gun. However, a similar case in the 6th Circuit, GOA v. Garland, ended with an 8-8 tie, leaving a lower court ruling that upheld the ban to stand. The circuit split finally led to the Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case.

Numerous gun-rights groups have filed friend-of-the-court briefs with the Supreme Court in the case, as have a number of gun-ban organizations. The National Rifle Association’s brief is direct and to the point.

“The Final Rule is arbitrary and capricious,” the brief states. “Congress defined ‘machinegun’ clearly, and bump stocks clearly do not fit that definition.

“ATF got it wrong…. Bump stocks are not machine guns. In defining machine gun, Congress focused solely on the trigger’s mechanics, not the process by which the shooter pulls the trigger. The statutory benchmark is clear, and ATF missed the mark.”

The Firearms Policy Coalition also filed a brief in the case, and pointed out the unconstitutionality of the Final Rule and the way it was made.

“When ATF first considered the legality of bump stocks over 20 years ago, it correctly concluded that they do not qualify as ‘machineguns,’” the FPC brief argues. “Yet in 2018, in the face of acute political pressure, the agency reversed course and adopted a new definition of the term that encompasses the bump stocks at issue. Petitioners’ defense of that newfound interpretation either ignores the statute Congress enacted or seeks to rewrite it.”

Gun-ban groups, however, see it differently. And they, too, filed briefs with the high court.

“The bump stock rule is simply common sense,” Billy Clark, senior litigation attorney at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said recently during a call with reporters about the case. “Bump stocks turn semi-automatic rifles into fully automatic machine guns. That is their sole purpose. Congress has entrusted ATF with the ability to protect the public from technological advancements like bump stocks, and ATF acted squarely within its authority when it issued the bump stock rule.”

Gun-rights group hope that a win in the case will start the dominos falling and lead to the eventual overturn of several other Final Rules on which the DOJ and ATF overstepped their authority over the past three years.









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