The Supreme Court on Thursday declined to block the Trump administration’s ban on bump stocks, devices that effectively speed up how quickly rifles can be fired.
Groups supporting gun owners and opposing firearms restrictions have sharply criticized the bump stock ban and challenged it in court, including filing two petitions seeking to delay the ban from taking effect — which it did earlier this week.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. on Tuesday denied one such request, while Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor had asked for more filings in response to another. She referred that stay request to the full court, and Thursday the justices denied the petition. There were no noted dissents released by the court.
After a gunman used weapons with bump stocks attached during the October 2017 massacre in Las Vegas — killing 58 people and wounding hundreds more while firing at a country music festival — lawmakers began calling for the devices to be banned. President Trump directed the Justice Department to change regulations and ban the devices in February 2018, shortly after a former student killed 17 people in a Parkland, Fla., high school; that attacker did not use bump stocks, but the carnage fueled a push for new gun control measures.
The Justice Department announced the ban in December, declaring that bump stock owners had until Tuesday — the day the change was set to take effect — to either destroy the devices or hand them over to authorities. Under the change, the Justice Department said bump stocks would be classified as machine guns because they “allow a shooter of a semiautomatic firearm to initiate a continuous firing cycle with a single pull of the trigger.”
A Justice Department official said Tuesday that the department believed the ban had gone into effect as scheduled.
Pro-gun groups fighting the Trump administration’s bump stock ban in court have decried the action as government overreach and accused the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) of trying “to bull through this sea-change in interpretation and enforcement.” Responding on the Justice Department’s behalf Tuesday, Solicitor General Noel Francisco dismissed their arguments and described the ban as legally sound and necessary for public safety.
“The protection of the public and law enforcement officers from the proliferation of prohibited firearms is a bedrock foundation of federal firearms legislation. . . . Implementation of the rule promotes that public interest by protecting the public from the dangers posed by machine guns prohibited by federal law,” Francisco wrote in a filing to the Supreme Court on Tuesday.
Gun Owners of America, one of the groups that had asked Sotomayor to delay the ban until they can appeal a lower-court ruling, argued that the case had a broader meaning, saying that preventing the bump stock ban could keep “a future anti-gun president” from seeking to ban other firearms.
The Supreme Court’s decision Thursday does not end the legal fight but means that the ban will remain in effect while challenges continue. Michael Hammond, legislative counsel for Gun Owners of America, said in a statement that the group was “disappointed” and pledged that it would “continue to fight the issue in the court system, as the case now returns to the lower courts.”
Hammond also said the group predicted “that a large majority of the 500,000 bump stock owners will refuse to turn in their property in what they view as an illegal, unconstitutional gun grab.”
ATF has posted guides explaining how to destroy various bump stocks, urging people to follow these guidelines because otherwise the attempts at disabling the devices “may be legally insufficient.”
A spokeswoman for ATF declined Wednesday to say how many bump stock devices had been turned over to them, saying it was “not discussing who has or has not abandoned bump stocks.” The spokeswoman also said that number would not be “an accurate measure” of bump stocks people have shed, since some may opt to destroy them on their own or give them to other agencies.
In other cases, people with bump stocks had announced their plans to give them to federal authorities. RW Arms, a retailer in Fort Worth that sells gun parts and accessories, said in a statement Monday that it planned to turn over its “entire inventory of bump stocks” — 60,000 devices — to ATF to be destroyed. Bump stock options that had been posted on the retailer’s site were listed as out of stock Wednesday.