MONUMENTAL DECISION: United States Supreme Court Overturns Bump Stock Ban By:



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Those who have been long-time readers of our blog will be aware that we have written numerous articles about bump stocks, covering the Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the 923-page Comment we filed that broke the eRulemaking Portal, the publication of the Final Rule, the lawsuit we filed against the Final Rule only hours after publication (Guedes, et al. v. ATF, et al. 920 F. 3d 1 (CADC 2019)), and the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Appeals unanimous ruling that Bump Stocks are not machine guns. But what might turn out to be the most important of our past articles, was how to surrender your bump stock.

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the ATF’s bump stock reclassification and ban when it issued a 6-3 decision in Garland v. Cargill stating:

We hold that a semiautomatic rifle equipped with a bump stock is not a “machinegun” because it cannot fire more than one shot “by a single function of the trigger.” And, even if it could, it would not do so “automatically.” ATF therefore exceeded it’s statutory authority by issuing a Rule that classifies bump stocks as machine guns. Slip Opinion, p. 6.

The relevant portion of the definition of a machinegun requires that a weapon must shoot, be designed to shoot, or be able to be readily restored to shoot, automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger. 26 U.S.C. § 5845(b). Justice Thomas, writing for the majority, thoroughly explained the mechanical operation of AR-style triggers, complete with diagrams and a link to this gif. For those who listened to the oral argument and heard several of the justices ask questions demonstrating a total lack of understanding of these mechanics, this clear and thorough explanation is a relief. Justice Thomas explains that “[f]or each shot, the shooter must engage the trigger and then release the trigger to allow it to reset. Any additional shot fired after one cycle is the result of a separate and distinct ‘function of the trigger…’ A bump stock does not convert a semiautomatic rifle into a machinegun any more than a shooter with a lightning-fast trigger finger does.” Slip Op at 12.

Justice Thomas continues to explain that even if a bump stock allowed a rifle to fire more than one shot by a single function of the trigger, it wouldn’t be doing so automatically. He quotes Judge Henderson’s opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part from our Guedes case, stating the “statutory definition of ‘machinegun’ does not include a firearm that shoots more than one round ‘automatically’ by a single pull of the trigger AND THEN SOME.” 920 F. 3d at 44 (emphasis original).

Justice Thomas concludes his opinion by excoriating the ATF and the dissenting opinion for making the argument that this decision renders the machinegun ban useless by making it too easy to circumvent (we would love it if that was the effect). “The dissent [] fails to prove that our reading makes §5845(b) ‘far less effective,’ much less ineffective (as is required to invoke the presumption.) Slip Op. at 19.

What Now?

Well, unless and until Congress acts to ban bump stocks, they are not machineguns (or firearms) under federal law. Because this decision is made on the basis of statutory interpretation, specifically the interpretation of the federal definition of “machinegun[s],” this decision does not invalidate any state laws that have outlawed bump stocks. If you do not live in a state that has passed its own ban, bump stocks are now lawful to purchase, sell, and possess. For those of our readers located in Pennsylvania and Maryland, Pennsylvania does not have a law banning bump stocks, Maryland does have such a law.

If you previously owned a bump stock that you surrendered to ATF or another law enforcement agency, you should have surrendered under protest like we recommended in in 2019. If you did, it’s time to dig out the property receipt you should have received and call the ATF field office you surrendered it to, to arrange a time for you to go and retrieve your property.

If you would like to discuss your rights in light of this decision, contact FICG today to discuss your options.

Firearms Industry Consulting Group® (FICG®) is a registered trademark and division of Civil Rights Defense Firm, P.C., with rights and permissions granted to Prince Law Offices, P.C. to use in this article.