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SCOTUS Bump Stock Ban Takedown: A Masterclass in Firearm Facts

The Supreme Court offers up liberty and an education.

by | Jun 15, 2024 | Articles, Good Reads, Opinion, Politics

The US Supreme Court overturned the Trump-era bump stock ban Friday, June 14, in a 6-3 ruling. The takedown of that ATF rule was more than merely the reversal of a policy enacted as a knee-jerk reaction that restricted liberty without good cause or constitutional justification. The opinion, authored by Justice Clarence Thomas, was also a masterclass in firearm facts.

Liberty, With a Side of Education

“The National Firearms Act of 1934 defines a ‘machinegun’ as ‘any weapon which shoots, is designed to shoot, or can be readily restored to shoot, automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger,” Justice Thomas wrote in the opening graph to the opinion. “With a semiautomatic firearm, the shooter can only fire one time by engaging the trigger. Using a technique called bump firing, shooters can fire semiautomatic firearm at rates approaching those of some machineguns.”

However, as Justice Thomas then explained, “a bump stock does not alter the basic mechanics of bump firing, and the trigger must still be released and reengaged to fire each additional shot.” In other words, not fully automatic, and therefore not a machinegun.

In layman’s terms, a full auto firearm, or machinegun, fires multiple times per trigger pull. Hold the trigger down, and it’ll rattle off rounds until it’s empty. A semiautomatic firearm, however, shoots a single round each time the trigger is pulled – and it doesn’t matter how fast your finger or the gun itself moves, it’s still semiauto if the trigger has to reset before another round goes downrange. This isn’t complicated science, and it isn’t news to the vast majority of people who have any firearms experience at all – or, for that matter, even a lot of folks who don’t.

That a buttstock replacement could be considered a firearm in itself, never mind a machinegun, defies simple common sense. Now, the Supreme Court has officially ruled that it defies the legal definition established in the National Firearms Act of 1934, as well.

Beyond simply defining different types of guns and, in so doing, dispelling the illogical and illegal definition put forth by the ATF in its bump stock ban, the Court clarified that a firearm needs no modification or accessory to be bump fired. The shooter can do it simply by holding the weapon a certain way while firing.

That, too, is nothing new. Indeed, it isn’t just semiautomatic rifles that can be fired in such a way that it might as well be full auto. Trick shooters have been known since the old days of the wild west to rapid-fire single action revolvers by holding the trigger down after firing the first shot, then fanning the hammer with their other hand. For someone coordinated and practiced enough, it is possible to pull off a triple shot using a form of fanning. The first shot comes as the gun clears the holster and the shooter thumbs the hammer on an already pulled trigger. Then the thumb of the other hand sends the hammer back while the trigger is still pulled and the other side of the hand hits it once more, setting off a second and third shot with a single trigger pull. The shots can come so rapidly that they sound like a small burst of full-auto fire, or, for the fastest gunslingers, like a single shot.

Yet no antique single-action revolver has ever been legally classified as a machinegun – and neither were bump fired weapons before the tragic shooting in Nevada.

Ending the Bump Stock Ban

In 2017, a mass shooter killed 60 people and injured hundreds more at a music festival in Las Vegas using rifles equipped with bump stocks. There was an immediate uproar from the gun control crowd, as there always is right after a shooting, but this time things were a bit different. Even Republican President Donald Trump called for a bump stock ban. It was a knee-jerk reaction based entirely on emotion that had little basis, as Justice Thomas pointed out this week, in reality. A heinous crime dominated the news cycle, and people cried out for the president to “do something.” So, he did something.

But as the Supreme Court decision explains, it was the wrong something. The ATF wanted to call a bump stock a machinegun, but the agency also acknowledged that a semiautomatic rifle bump fired without modifications was still a semiautomatic rifle. “Their argument is thus at odds with itself,” Justice Thomas wrote.

The ATF “extended its statutory authority” by issuing this rule, the Court claims, and – despite initially supporting the ban – Trump himself stands with the Supreme Court now. “The Court has spoken and their decision should be respected,” Trump campaign national press secretary Karoline Leavitt said in a statement after the decision.

The current president, however, disagreed. “Today’s Supreme Court decision strikes down an important gun safety regulation,” Biden posted to X on Friday. Don’t be surprised if this sparks yet another gun control push by the administration and congressional Democrats.

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