Supreme Court Will Consider Whether Bump Stocks Are Machine Guns—And Can Legally Be Banned



The Supreme Court agreed on Friday to consider the Biden administration’s question of whether it is legal for the federal government to ban bump stocks—which allow semi-automatic weapons to fire rapidly and were used in the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting—after lower courts gave conflicting opinions on the legality of the ban originally put in place by the Trump administration.

Key Facts

The Supreme Court will review two conflicting decisions from U.S. Courts of Appeals over the legality of the ban; at issue is whether the bump stock—an accessory that alters a semi-automatic gun—can be classified as a machine gun and therefore banned under the National Firearms Act and Gun Control Act.

Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar argued on behalf of the Biden administration that bump stocks fall under the definition of machine guns, arguing that they allow the shooter’s stationary finger to bump into the trigger, firing another bullet, according to CNN.

Earlier this year the conservative Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Texas invalidated the ban on bump stocks and said a ban would need to be passed by Congress, with Judge Jennifer Elrod writing an opinion saying the ban did not give a “fair warning that possession of a non-mechanical bump stock is a crime.”

Separately Judge Robert Wilkins of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in a decision last year that a bump stock could be defined as a machine gun and would be banned under the National Firearms Act and Gun Control Act.

The Supreme Court declined to review three other challenges to the ban last year, according to the Associated Press.

Key Background

The Trump Administration first introduced the rule change classifying bump stocks as illegal in February 2018, four months after a 64-year-old man used a bump stock on his semi-automatic weapon to kill 60 people in a mass shooting in Las Vegas. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) then ruled in 2018 that bump stocks fall within the definition of “machine gun” under federal law, effectively banning the devices under the National Firearms Act and Gun Control Act. The ban under the Trump administration followed an effort to push a similar ruling in 2010 by the Obama administration, according to the Associated Press, though the ATF determined at that time a bump stock could not be classified as a machine gun. According to ATF, a bump stock allows semi-automatic weapons to shoot more than one shot with a single pull of the trigger, after harnessing recoil energy so that the trigger resets and continues firing without the trigger being pulled again. Michael Cargill, a Texas-based gun rights advocate, challenged the ATF’s ruling in 2018 after surrendering bump stocks he purchased. Lawyers representing Cargill said Americans purchased 52,000 bump stocks in a nine-year period leading up to the ATF’s ban, according to CNN.


The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Nov. 7 in United States v. Rahimi, a case that will determine the constitutionality of a federal statute barring people from owning guns if they have domestic violence restraining orders against them. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Zackey Rahimi, who carried out a series of shootings while he had such an order against him. The Supreme Court has also been asked to consider other gun regulations, including a ban on felons from owning firearms.

Surprising Fact

The Supreme Court has issued two decisions on gun control over the last two years. Last year, the court struck down a New York law that only allowed firearm owners to receive a concealed carry license if they have a “proper clause.” The court ruled the Second Amendment’s definition of the right to “bear arms” includes “carrying handguns publicly for self-defense.” The decision is expected to affect similar laws in other states—including California, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey—and lead to other legal disputes, according to the Associated Press. In August, the Supreme Court restored the Biden administration’s regulations on ghost guns, or weapons that could be assembled from frames ordered online. The case is expected to return to the Supreme Court after moving to a lower appeals court.

Further Reading

As U.S. Reels From Maine Mass Shooting, This Supreme Court Case Could Loosen Gun Restrictions Even More (Forbes)

Supreme Court Will Rule On Ban On Rapid-Fire Gun Bump Stocks, Used In Las Vegas Mass Shooting (Associated Press)

Supreme Court To Consider Challenge To Federal Bump Stock Ban (CNN)

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