Supreme Court overturns Trump-era ban on wholesale stocks


The Supreme Court on Friday struck down a federal ban on wholesale stocks approved by former President Donald Trump, the latest high court action limiting the power of federal agencies to act on their own.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the opinion for a 6-3 court. The Court’s liberal wing, led by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, dissented.

Trump pushed for the ban in response to a 2017 mass shooting that killed 58 people at an outdoor music festival in Las Vegas. Safety stocks allow a shooter to convert a semi-automatic rifle into a weapon capable of firing at a rate of hundreds of rounds per minute.

“A humpback stock no more turns a semi-automatic rifle into a machine gun than a shooter with a high-speed trigger,” Thomas wrote in his review. “Even with a bump stock, a semi-automatic rifle will only fire one shot for each ‘trigger function’.”

The ban was challenged by Texas gun store owner Michael Cargill, who purchased two of the devices in 2018, turned them over to the government after the ban was implemented, then quickly filed a lawsuit. legal action to recover them. Federal rule made possessing a bump stock a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Although the case did not turn on the Second Amendment, it nonetheless returned the gun debate to the court’s docket in one of the most closely watched controversies this year. In this sense, this decision is the latest by the high court to side with gun rights groups.

Sotomayor wrote in a scathing dissent joined by the Court’s two other liberal justices that the majority’s decision “will have deadly consequences.”

The decision, she wrote, “cripples the government’s efforts to prevent machine guns from being used by gunmen like the Las Vegas shooter.”

In a move that underscored Sotomayor’s displeasure with the court’s decision, the judge took the rare step of reading her dissent from the bench on Friday.

“When I see a bird that walks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duck,” Sotomayor wrote in his dissent. “A semi-automatic rifle equipped with a stock fires “automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single trigger function.” Because I, like Congress, call it a machine gun, I respectfully disagree.

The bump stock challenge was indirectly linked to a gun control law passed by Congress in the 1930s intended to target gangsters like Al Capone and John Dillinger. In response to grisly crimes in which machine guns were used to rob banks or ambush police, lawmakers required owners to register the weapons.

The law was amended several times, and by 1986 it prohibited Americans from transferring or possessing a machine gun in most circumstances. It is important to note that the amended law defines “machine gun” as a weapon that fires more than one round with “a single trigger function.” What precisely this phrase meant was the subject of the appeal.

The Trump and Biden administrations, as well as gun control groups, have said the operation of bump stocks means they are considered machine guns. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives reclassified the devices as machine guns in 2018 and, based on previous law, banned people from purchasing or possessing them.

Trump described bump stocks at the time as a conversion of “legal weapons into illegal machines.”

The ATF estimates that as many as 520,000 stocks were sold between 2010 and 2018. The device replaces the usual stock of a semi-automatic rifle, the part of a weapon that rests against the shoulder. It allows shooters to use the weapon’s recoil to mimic automatic fire if they hold their trigger in place.

Opponents say the ATF overstepped its authority with this reclassification. They noted that the agency in both Democratic and Republican administrations had long said the devices were not covered by the law.

A U.S. district court in Texas and a three-judge panel on the conservative 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the Justice Department. But the full 5th Circuit revisited the case and last year issued a split opinion siding with Cargill.

The court appeared divided during oral arguments in late February. Several conservatives on the Court were particularly concerned by the idea that Americans who purchased bump stocks when they were not classified as machine guns might suddenly be prosecuted for a crime of which they were unaware.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh feared that criminalizing this device would “trap” Americans.

“Even if you are not aware of the legal prohibition, you can be convicted,” Kavanaugh told the lawyer representing the Biden administration. “It’s going to trap a lot of people who aren’t aware of the legal ban.”

Another central theme of the debates was whether Congress – rather than the ATF – should have approved the ban. It’s an issue that has become a central theme at the Supreme Court in recent years, with groups challenging financial and environmental regulations in separate cases.

The court, meanwhile, repeatedly sided with some of the same gun rights groups, including the National Rifle Association, that opposed the gun ban. Most recently, the court’s conservative majority struck down a New York state law that required state residents to have a special need to carry a weapon outside their home.

This story has been updated with additional details.

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