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US Supreme Court rules gun 'bump stocks' ban unlawful

June 14, 2024

The court overturned a ban imposed under previous President Donald Trump, in the aftermath of the Las Vegas mass shooting with 58 deaths and several hundred injured.

A bump fire stock that attaches to a semi-automatic rifle to increase the firing rate
Bump stocks are accessories that replace a rifle's stock, the part that rests against the shoulder. Image: George Frey/REUTERS

The United States Supreme Court on Friday struck down a Trump-era federal ban on "bump stocks," which are gun accessories that enable semi-automatic rifles to fire more quickly.

The rule was imposed after the devices were used during a 2017 mass shooting that killed 58 people at a Las Vegas country music festival.

In a 6-3 ruling on ideological lines with the court's conservatives in the majority upheld a lower court's decision siding with Michael Cargill, a gun shop owner and gun rights advocate from Austin, Texas, who challenged the ban.

Arguments over the definition of machine guns

The gunman in the Las Vegas attack fired more than 1,000 rounds in the crowd in 11 minutes,  killing 58 people and injuring more than 500. Most of his 22 guns were equipped with "bump stocks."

Following the Parkland high school shooting that left 17 people dead, then President Donald Trump's administration extended a ban on machine guns to include bump stocks. Federal officials declared they fall under a 1934 law passed by Congress banning machine guns.

It is those regulations that Cargill, a gun seller from Texas, challenged in court.

"A bump stock merely reduces the amount of time that elapses between separate functions of the trigger," Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in Friday's majority court ruling.

He found that it did not turn a rifle into a machine gun as described by the 1934 law.

In a dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor pointed to the Las Vegas gunman, "in murdering so many people so quickly, he did not rely on a quick trigger finger. Instead, he relied on bump stocks."

Unusually, she read a summary of her dissent aloud in the courtroom. 

Trump and Biden react

The United States is a country deeply divided over how to address gun violence.

President Joe Biden and many Democrats have repeatedly called for stricter gun laws, while Republicans often oppose them.

On Friday, former President Donald Trump's 2024 campaign team said it respects the court's decision.

They also pointed out that the influential gun lobby group, the National Rifle Association, endorsed the presumptive Republican nominee. 

President Joe Biden said the decision "strikes down an important gun safety regulation."

"Americans should not have to live in fear of this mass devastation," Biden added, saying he has "used every tool in my administration to stamp out gun violence."

"I call on Congress to ban bump stocks, pass an assault weapon ban and take additional action to save lives - send me a bill and I will sign it immediately," Biden added.

There have been 16 mass killings so far in 2024, according to data tracked by the Associated Press news agency. 

A mass killing is defined as an attack in which four or more people have died, not including the perpetrator, within a 24-hour period.

lo/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters)