US Supreme Court rejects challenge to ban bump stocks

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WASHINGTON, Oct 3 (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court, which expanded gun rights in a major ruling in June, declined on Monday to hear a challenge to a federal ban on devices called “bump stocks” that enable semi-automatic weapons to shoot like a machine gun – a firearms control prompted by a mass shooting in Las Vegas in 2017.

The justices rejected appeals by a Utah gun lobbyist named Clark Aposhian and gun rights groups in lower court rulings that upheld the ban as a reasonable interpretation of a federal law banning machine gun possession.

At issue was action by former President Donald Trump’s Trump administration to reclassify bump stocks as prohibited machine guns under US law in a policy that took effect in 2019.

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Bump stocks use a gun’s recoil to shock its trigger, allowing a semi-automatic weapon to fire hundreds of rounds per minute to allow it to fire like a machine gun. Trump vowed to ban them shortly after a gunman used semi-automatic weapons equipped with bump devices in a shooting spree that killed 58 people at a country music festival in Las Vegas.

After the massacre, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), an agency of the US Department of Justice, reversed an earlier finding and classified bump stocks as prohibited under a 1934 US law called the National Firearms Act, enacted in response to the gangster the violence of the time. Trump also directed the Justice Department to issue a rule to ban bump stocks.

In a 6-3 ruling in June driven by its conservative justices, the court declared for the first time that the U.S. Constitution protects a person’s right to carry a weapon in public for self-defense. The decision handed a victory to gun rights advocates in a nation deeply divided over how to deal with gun violence.

The court’s three liberal justices dissented from that ruling, which struck down New York’s limits on carrying concealed handguns outside the home.

The ban on bump stocks, enacted without congressional action, required owners to surrender or destroy the attachment, and those caught in possession of bump stocks faced up to 10 years in prison.

Only rarely are gun control measures enacted at the federal level. President Joe Biden in June signed into law the first major federal gun reform in three decades, two days after the Supreme Court’s decision in the New York case. This law was designed to help prevent people deemed dangerous from gaining access to guns and increase investment in America’s mental health system.

Aposhian, according to his website, is president of the Utah Shooting Sports Council. The group is lobbying the Utah State Legislature “to defeat gun control and pass gun laws.”

Aposhian sued to halt the ban in 2019, challenging the ATF’s authority to reclassify bump stocks as prohibited machine guns. After a federal judge refused to grant him an injunction early in the case, Aposhian surrendered his bump stock, pending the outcome of the lawsuit.

The Denver-based 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals in 2020 upheld the ban, declining to second guess the ATF’s reinterpretation of the term “machine gun” under federal law.

Separately, gun owner groups, including Gun Owners of America and three of its individual members, sued in federal court in Michigan to block the ban from taking effect. The Cincinnati-based 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals in 2021 upheld the ban.

The appeals to the Supreme Court argue that the lower courts impermissibly stayed the ATF’s actions.

In 2019, the Supreme Court refused to block the ban from taking effect.

The National Rifle Association, a gun rights group closely aligned with Republicans, filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the Supreme Court in support of Aposhian. Trump’s Republicans favor a broad interpretation of the right to keep and bear arms promised in the US Constitution’s Second Amendment.

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Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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