Supreme Court split on federal bump stock ban challenged by Texas gun store owner

The Supreme Court is debating a Texas case that could determine if firearm accessories known as bump stocks violate federal law. 

The Trump administration banned bump stocks after the deadly mass shooting in Las Vegas, but the ban was put on hold.

This comes down to whether the justices believe the accessory makes a weapon a machine gun. Those supporting bump stocks say there is still a manual action taken by the shooter. 

David Prince, owner of Eagle Gun Range in Farmers Branch, explained some of the mechanics of bump stocks. 

"When the recoil sets, it lets the firearm go forward," he explained. "And you end up pulling the trigger every time the firearm goes forward."

It’s at the heart of the debate: how the devices actually work.

Following the Las Vegas shooting in 2017, the deadliest shooting in modern-day history, then-President Donald Trump got bump stocks removed from store shelves

A bump stock is installed on an AK-47 and its movement is demonstrated at Good Guys Gun and Range on February 21, 2018 in Orem, Utah. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)

Many of the gunman’s weapons were equipped with bump stocks and high-capacity magazines. More than 1,000 rounds were fired into the crowd in 11 minutes, killing 60 people and injuring hundreds more.

Prince sold very few of the devices, but he’s familiar enough with them to believe they do not turn a rifle into an automatic weapon. 

"Absolutely not," he said. "To be a full auto machine gun, by ATF rules, you had to change the receiver and make it fully auto."

The word "automatic" is important to the case, which originated with a bump stock manufacturer in Texas. 


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It is not about the Second Amendment. Instead, it’s about whether the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has the power to ban gun accessories like bump stocks. 

Brian Fletcher, principal deputy solicitor general, said that the ATF's previous findings were less in-depth than the review it undertook under Trump.

"[The statute] did not want members of the public or law enforcement to face the danger from weapons that let a shooter spray many bullets by making a single act. That’s exactly what bump stocks do. That’s what the Las Vegas shooting illustrated."

The federal government’s stance is that bump stocks allow the rapid firing of bullets, in their eyes, making it a machine gun. 

On the other side is Jonathan Mitchell, who argued on behalf of Texas gun shop owner and Army veteran Michael Cargill. He was peppered with questions from both liberal and conservative justices. 

"You can achieve the same kind of result in terms of the amounts of bullets ejected," said Justice Kentanj Brown Jackson.

"That is true," Mitchell said. "It has a very high rate of fire, but it’s not automatic."

"High rate of fire, that’s achievable through the bump stocks," said Justice Neil Gorsuch. "It’s effectively the equivalence, and we should be cognizant of that. Your thoughts?"

"That’s just not what the statute says," Mitchell said. "It has nothing to do with the rate of fire."


US appeals court blocks ban on rapid-fire ‘bump stocks’

The 13-3 ruling at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of appeals is the latest on the Trump-era bump stock ban, which is likely to be decided at the Supreme Court.

"But the statute doesn’t say a lot of things that you have agreed is prohibited under the statute," said Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Prince thinks if the high court sides with the government, it could be a slippery slope for other gun accessories. 

‘The ATF shouldn’t be making laws. Making a change like that, I am not sure is completely legal," he said. "Anytime you start down the infringement path, you can start having other things."

There likely won’t be a ruling from the Supreme Court until sometime this summer.

Those who had bump stocks were told to destroy them after the ban was put in place.