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  • JAMES KING, MPA

Supreme Court Rules Against ATF In Bump Stock Case


In a significant ruling, the Supreme Court declared the federal ban on bump stocks illegal, asserting that the accessory does not convert a semiautomatic rifle into a machine gun. The decision, delivered in a 6-3 vote, challenged the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) over its regulatory reach.

Justice Clarence Thomas, in the majority opinion, explained that bump stocks do not meet the statutory definition of machine guns, which are characterized by their ability to fire multiple rounds automatically with a single trigger action. Thomas emphasized that semiautomatic weapons require the shooter to pull the trigger for each shot, even with a bump stock.


The case was initiated by Michael Cargill, who surrendered his bump stocks to the ATF but contested the rule’s legality. Represented by the New Civil Liberties Alliance, Cargill argued that the ATF’s regulation exceeded its statutory authority. The Court agreed, noting that the statutory language specifies a “single function of the trigger” for defining a machine gun.


Thomas clarified, “A bump stock merely reduces the time between separate trigger functions but does not alter the fundamental operation of a semiautomatic rifle.” The ruling underscored that each shot requires a distinct trigger action, even with a bump stock.


Justice Samuel Alito concurred with the majority, while Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson, dissented. The dissenting justices argued that the ATF’s interpretation should be upheld for public safety reasons.


This ruling has broader implications, signaling the Court’s willingness to rein in federal agencies that attempt to expand their regulatory scope beyond clear legislative mandates. The decision could impact other regulatory actions under the Biden administration, emphasizing the necessity for agencies to operate within the bounds of their statutory authority.


The case, Garland v. Cargill, No. 22-976, highlights the ongoing tension between federal regulatory power and judicial interpretation of legislative intent.

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