United States – In the most recent case involving a firearms restriction, the US Supreme Court justices argued on Wednesday over technical aspects of “bump stocks,” which are devices which are used in semiautomatic weapons to fire rapidly like machine guns. The Court was considering the legality of the ban imposed by former President Donald Trump on these devices.

Austin Activist Challenges Ban

Court’s decision is in favor of Austin, Texas, gun rights activist and gun store owner Michael Cargill, who contested the ban imposed following a mass shooting that claimed 58 lives in Las Vegas in 2017—a decision that the justices heard arguments in support of President Joe Biden’s administration—was appealed by Cargill, as reported by Reuters.

The highest Court, with a 6-3 majority conservative, has taken into consideration a broad approach to gun rights, the latest one being a landmark 2022 judgment overturning the New York state restrictions on the carrying of concealed guns outside the home.

Brian Fletcher, a Justice Department lawyer, was inquired by some justices to explain how a bump stock’s features satisfy the definition of a machine gun.

“Intuitively, I am entirely sympathetic to your argument. I mean, and it seems like, yes, this is functioning like a machine gun would,” said conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett. “But, looking at that definition, I think the question is, why didn’t Congress pass that legislation to make this covered more clearly?”

Legal Tussle Centers on ATF Interpretation

Visual Representation – ATF United States Justice Department agency. Credit | Getty images

The case focuses on whether the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) – a United States Justice Department agency- interpreted the law as extending to bump stocks presented in the definition of machine gun, according to the regulation taken in 2019.

Fast Firing Machine Guns were issued by a 1934 law known as the National Firearms Act as a weapon of fire capable of “automatically” firing more than one shot merely by pressing the trigger.

Progressive Justice Brett Kavanaugh said that it had been the two previous presidential administrations which had declared rifles with bump stocks to be not automatic weapons and that this breached the Statute in the case.

“That’s the reason for pause,” Kavanaugh said.

Debate on Gun Violence

On the other hand, liberal Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson said it and asked the lawyer of Cargill, Jonathan Mitchell, if the Congress banning machine guns did not have in mind the trigger mechanism but wanted the weapons with the same effect.

“Why would Congress want to prohibit certain things based on whether the trigger is moving, as opposed to certain things that can achieve this lethal kind of spray of bullets?” Jackson asked.

Bump stocks lead to a “very high rate of fire, but it’s not automatic,” Mitchell added.

A semiautomatic recoil is used with a bump stock purposefully in order to “slide back and forth” in a way that is analogous to the movement of the shooter’s trigger finger, thus bringing into play the principle of a rapid fire. These devices could fire up to 800 bullets per minute, like machine guns issued to the US Army, The U.S Justice Department reported.

Liberal Justice Elena Kagan asked Mitchell why a bump stock would require that the shooter had to constantly press the barrel whereas a machine gun requires that you constantly press the trigger.

“I can’t understand how anybody could think that those two things should be treated differently,” Kagan said.

“At some point, you have to apply a little bit of common sense to the way you read a statute,” he added.

Fletcher pleaded that when bump stock foldable weapons “do exactly what Congress meant to prohibit when it enacted the prohibition of machine guns,” these weapons meet the legal definition of an automatic machine gun.

A rifle having a bump stock, Fletcher pointed out, “fires more than one shot automatically – that is, through a self-regulating mechanism.” The gun “fires more than one shot automatically” through itself.

Calling on Justice Thomas in a Conservative stance, Fletcher challenged the judge to tell the difference between using a traditional machine gun like the M16 and a gun with a bump stock, as reported by Reuters.

“Take an M16, you pull the trigger back, and you hold it – and it keeps shooting. With a bump stock, you push forward, and that both initiates and continues the firing,” Fletcher said.

Under federal law, it is illegal to transfer or have machine guns, with a sentence of up to 10 years in jail.

Bump Stocks Ban Not a Second Amendment Challenge

Visual Representation – Bump Stocks Ban. Credit | Getty image

In contrast to most other gun rights cases, this one does not seek to figure out if the measure violates the Second Amendment rights that are articulated in the Constitution and provide for keeping and bearing arms.

The United States of America is referred to as a country whose constituents are widely torn apart over the issue of increased gun violence that the president has labeled as a “national embarrassment.”

The weaponry, which had been used by a gunman during his killing rampage at a country music festival in Las Vegas, was the last straw for the Trump administration, who responded by prohibiting the devices.

Cargill argues that the rule should be voided because he was ordered not to have more than two bump stocks.

An appeals court, located in New Orleans and composed of the 5th US Circuit Court, came out to side with Cargill last year in a divided opinion on the premise that the law was ambiguous in terms of whether it supports ATF’s reading of the Statute, as reported by Reuters.

Gun Rights Inform Ongoing Legal Battle

The High Court, through its post-2008 three major decisions, has broadened the scope of gun rights for US citizens. The Court’s 2021 ruling was a landmark because it was the first time that the Second Amendment was acknowledged as giving people the right to be armed in public. It was under the strict standard that it was difficult for gun regulations to prevail against constitutional challenges.


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