Guns

Supreme Court reviewing arguments regarding legality of bump stocks

For a decade, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms said bump stocks were not machine guns as defined by statute.

Supreme Court reviewing arguments regarding legality of bump stocks
A bump stock.
Steve Helber / AP
SMS

The Supreme Court is considering whether a device attached to a firearm can be banned under federal law as a machine gun — in this case a bump stock.

A bump stock effectively turns a semi-automatic or single-fire weapon into a rapid-fire weapon, by making a gun bump against the shooter's shoulder and trigger finger.

For a decade, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms said bump stocks were not machine guns as defined by statute. Former ATF Firearms Enforcement Officer Rick Vasquez helped write those definitions on what "bump fire" was.

"So at ATF, everybody agreed with the technology branch. Chief counsel and our deputy assistant directors said, 'Hey, we can't call it anything but a bump stock device,'" said Vasquez. 

In October of 2017, a gunman carried out the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history killing 60 concertgoers from a Las Vegas hotel window after modifying his rifles with bump stocks.

So at the behest of the Trump administration, the ATF changed course and said bump stocks are in fact machine guns, exposing their owners to criminal liability.

But Austin, Texas, gun store owner Michael Cargill sued after surrendering his bump stocks in 2019, arguing the ATF can't change the rules by itself. 

"You're going to try and make it illegal and turn someone into a felon overnight if they're in possession of it," said Cargill. 

He says changes should come from Congress, not a federal agency. 

Gun control advocates say bump stocks make single-fire guns fully automatic.

"The government, whether it's a Republican or a Democratic administration, has what everybody agrees is a reason to take machine guns off the streets," said Douglas Letter, chief legal officer for the Brady Campaign. 

A ruling is expected in the summer.

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