Bump-Stock ban left intact as Supreme Court rejects challenges to gun law

By Greg Stohr | Bloomberg

The US Supreme Court left intact the federal ban on bump stocks, the attachments that can make a semiautomatic rifle fire like a machine gun, turning away arguments from advocates including the National Rifle Association.

The justices without comment rejected two challenges to a criminal ban the Trump administration put in place after the October 2017 Las Vegas concert massacre, when about a dozen bump stocks were found in the shooter’s hotel room. Sixty people were killed in that attack, the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.

The order comes three months after the justices ruled in a New York case that most people have a constitutional right to carry a handgun in public. It follows a series of mass shootings this year, including the rampage that left 19 children and two teachers dead at an Uvalde, Texas, elementary school.

The bump-stock rejections end months of behind-the-scenes maneuvering. The justices were originally scheduled to discuss one of the appeals, pressed by Utah gun lobbyist W. Clark Aposhian, at a private conference in December. They rescheduled the case 20 times, and eventually decided to carry it over to the new term.

The Supreme Court also rejected a separate challenge pressed by people and groups led by Gun Owners of America.

The challengers argued that Congress didn’t give the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives authority to classify bump stocks as machine guns, which have been virtually banned in the US since 1986.

They also faulted a federal appeals court for invoking “Chevron deference,” a legal doctrine requiring judges in many cases to defer to regulatory agencies on the meaning of ambiguous laws. The opponents said Chevron deference shouldn’t apply to the interpretation of criminal statutes.

“Imposing criminal liability comes with certain stigmas and a loss of liberty,” the NRA argued in a friend-of-the-court brief in the Aposhian case. “Those moral judgments are the types of important questions that Congress must answer itself.”

ATF estimated when it proposed the rule that US residents possessed 520,000 bump stocks, which the ban required to be relinquished or destroyed. The Supreme Court let the ban take effect in 2019.

The Biden administration urged the Supreme Court to reject the appeals without a hearing. The administration said ATF didn’t rely on Chevron deference, making the case a poor choice for determining the reach of that legal doctrine.

“ATF’s interpretation reflects the best understanding of the statutory language,” Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar argued.

The National Firearms Act defines a machine gun 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.”

The cases are Aposhian v. Garland, 21-159, and Gun Owners of America v. Garland, 21-1215.

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