A 2018 ban made bump stocks—add-on devices that make semi-automatic rifles fire like machine guns—illegal at the federal level. Now, however, 17 state attorneys—all Republican—are asking a federal appeals court to overturn that ban. As Cleveland.com reports, the state attorneys filed their brief earlier this month, just before the two-year anniversaries of two mass shootings: one that left nine people dead in Dayton, Ohio, and another that left 23 dead in El Paso, Tex.
The state attorneys asked for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit to overturn the rule that classifies rifles with bump stocks as machine guns. They argued that it’s Congress, not the U.S. Justice Department, that can change that definition. A three-panel judge for the Sixth Circuit ruled in March that the federal bump stock ban is likely unlawful and must be put on hold, according to Bloomberg Law. And now, the state attorneys want the full appeals court to affirm that panel’s ruling.
Bump stocks use kickback energy to fire the gun rapidly
As The New York Times explained in the wake of the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting that killed 58 people, a bump stock is an attachment that enables a semiautomatic rifle to fire faster. In the Las Vegas shooting, investigators found that the gunman had bump stocks attached to 12 of his rifles.
A bump stock replaces the standard stock of a gun—the part of the gun that a shooter holds against their shoulder—and uses the energy from the recoil of the gun to slide the stock rapidly between the shooter’s shoulder and trigger finger. An audio analysis by The New York Times found that the Las Vegas gunman fired about 90 shots in 10 seconds. A fully automatic weapon fires 98 shots in seven seconds.
The Department of Justice added bump stocks to the definition of machine in Dec. 2018
On December 18, 2018, then-Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker announced that the Department of Justice had amended Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) regulations to assert that bump stocks fall under the definition of machine gun under federal law, according to the ATF website. The rule went into effect on Mar. 26, 2019, with the ATF stating that “possessors of bump-stock-type devices must divest themselves of possession” as of that deadline.
“One option is to destroy the device, and the final rule identifies possible methods of destruction, to include completely melting, shredding, or crushing the device,” the ATF added. “Any method of destruction must render the device incapable of being readily restored to function.”
The Supreme Court refused to block the ban
Two days after the rule went into effect, and after the gun lobby Gun Owners of America argued that the Trump administration had exceeded its authority, the Supreme Court issued a one-sentence order to refuse to block the bump stock ban, according to The New York Times.
The Supreme Court’s action came days after Judge Paul L. Maloney of the Federal District Court in Kalamazoo, Mich., also refused to block the ban. “Congress restricts access to machine guns because of the threat the weapons pose to public safety,” Maloney wrote. “Restrictions on bump stocks advance the same interest. All of the public is at risk, including the smaller number of bump stock owners.”