Supreme Court bump stock decision hurls gun rights back into spotlight

The Supreme Court’s decision invalidating the nationwide bump stock ban ignited a firestorm among Democrats and gun control groups that have long maligned the device used to perpetrate the nation’s deadliest mass shooting.

The groups expressed worry about not only the impacts of lifting the ban, which could trigger a booming rapid-fire marketplace, but also the other gun cases that remain pending on the justices’ docket.

Republicans and gun-rights groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA), meanwhile, celebrated Friday’s decision as a necessary pull-back on firearm restrictions and executive-branch overreach.

“The Supreme Court has properly restrained executive branch agencies to their role of enforcing, and not making, the law. This decision will be pivotal to NRA’s future challenges of ATF regulations,” Randy Kozuch, the executive director of the group’s lobbying arm, said in a statement.

The push to ban bump stocks reignited after a gunman in 2017 used one to kill five dozen concertgoers in Las Vegas, a massacre that remains the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

Though Democrats were the most vocal, even the NRA called for additional regulations of the devices at the time. Without Congress, the Trump administration ultimately banned the devices through a new Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) rule.

The ATF prohibited the devices, which enable semi-automatic weapons to fire much more rapidly, by considering them machine guns under federal law.

In a 6-3 ruling along ideological lines, the Supreme Court said Friday that categorization stretched the law too far, ruling in favor of a Texas gun store owner who challenged the ban after surrendering his two bump stocks.

Now attempting to retake the White House, former President Trump’s campaign reacted with no enthusiastic endorsement of the regulation that his administration once implemented.

Karoline Leavitt, Trump’s campaign press secretary, said in a statement that the court’s decision “should be respected.”

“President Trump has been and always will be a fierce defender of Americans’ second amendment rights and he is proud to be endorsed by the NRA,” Leavitt said, slamming Biden’s immigration policy as reason that “the right to keep and bear arms has never been more critical.”

The Supreme Court’s decision still leaves the door open for a nationwide bump stock ban, if Congress amends the longstanding federal law prohibiting machine guns to more clearly cover the devices.

“There is a simple remedy for the disparate treatment of bump stocks and machineguns,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in a brief, separate opinion. “Congress can amend the law—and perhaps would have done so already if ATF had stuck with its earlier interpretation. Now that the situation is clear, Congress can act.”

Some court watchers took the comment as a suggestion that Alito, one of the court’s leading conservatives, wouldn’t find such a law unconstitutional if eventually challenged under the Second Amendment.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other Democrats responded to the ruling by calling for such legislation.

Those concerns were echoed by President Biden, who pointed to the deadly Las Vegas mass shooting that spurred the original ban.

“Americans should not have to live in fear of this mass devastation,” Biden said, vowing to “immediately” sign bills banning bump stocks and assault weapons if sent to his desk.

It appears unlikely a ban could materialize in the current Congress, however. Democrats previously sought to introduce such a bill, but just one Republican has signed on: Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.).

Other Republicans on Friday welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision, applauding it as a win for gun rights and a check on government overreach.

“The Supreme Court reminds unelected bureaucrats that they don’t get to infringe upon our Second Amendment rights by rewriting laws they don’t like,” Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) wrote on social platform X.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) reposted a video from Michael Cargill, the Texas-based gun shop owner who challenged the bump stock ban.

“I was told over five years ago, ‘Why are you going down this road? No one cares about bump stocks. Let’s go ahead and let them take the bump stocks,’” Cargill said in the video celebrating his Supreme Court win. “But instead, I stood and fought. And because of this, the bump stock case is going to be the case that saves everything.”

Gun control groups that backed the bump stock ban before the Supreme Court insist the decision will lead to more violence.

“The bottom line of all of this is that more people are going to die because of the Supreme Court majority’s decision,” Douglas Letter, chief legal officer at the anti-gun violence organization Brady, said on a call with reporters.

“And they’re going to die while Congress is deciding, at a very difficult time in Congress, whether to fix this error, this grave error by the six justices.”

Though the decision marks the first major gun control opinion this term, it did not implicate the Second Amendment. But impending action on cases that do could soon shift the legal landscape around gun rights, standing to further stoke the flames.

Later this month, the Supreme Court is expected to rule on whether the government can disarm people under domestic violence restraining orders. It’s the court’s first case applying its new legal test that marked the biggest expansion of Second Amendment rights in a decade.

The court is currently being asked to take up a separate Second Amendment case from Illinois that could impact Democrats’ efforts to ban assault-style rifles nationwide.

Besides those disputes, the justices next term already agreed to hear another case evaluating the ATF’s interpretation of federal gun laws. This time, the Supreme Court will decide whether the Biden administration had authority to ban “ghost guns.”

“The Supreme Court reached a good decision today that is frankly long overdue,” Dudley Brown, president of the National Association for Gun Rights, said in a statement. “The ATF has wandered so far out of its lane for so long, it can’t even find the road anymore.”

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