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Supreme Court strikes down ban on bump stocks, devices used in Las Vegas shooting

Updated June 14, 2024 - 2:20 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday struck down a Trump-era ban on bump stocks, a gun accessory that effectively converts semiautomatic firearms into fully automatic weapons. The ruling hits close to home for Nevada, where bump stocks were used in the country’s deadliest mass shooting that left 60 people dead and hundreds wounded.

“It makes me sick,” said Rainna Davis, 62, a Las Vegas resident who survived the Oct. 1, 2017, shooting at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival. Davis does not understand why there has to be military-style weapons on the street.

“You don’t use bump stocks to go hunting,” Davis said.

The high court’s conservative majority ruled that the Trump administration did not follow federal law when it banned bump stocks after a gunman attacked the festival with assault rifles in 2017, firing more than 1,000 rounds in the crowd in 11 minutes.

The 6-3 majority opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas said a semiautomatic rifle with a bump stock is not an illegal machine gun because it doesn’t make the weapon fire more than one shot with a single pull of the trigger.

“A bump stock merely reduces the amount of time that elapses between separate functions of the trigger,” Thomas wrote in an opinion that contained multiple drawings of guns’ firing mechanisms. He was joined by fellow conservatives John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. Alito wrote a short separate opinion to stress that Congress can change the law to equate bump stocks with machine guns.

In a dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor pointed to the Las Vegas gunman. “In murdering so many people so quickly, he did not rely on a quick trigger finger. Instead, he relied on bump stocks,” she said, reading a summary of her dissent aloud in the courtroom.

Sotomayor said that it’s “deeply regrettable” Congress has to act but that she hopes it does.

The ruling came after a Texas gun shop owner challenged the ban, arguing the Justice Department wrongly classified the accessories as illegal machine guns.

‘Painful lessons’

Angelica Cervantes, who continues to mourn the death of her son, Erick Silva, who was working security and was killed as he ushered concert attendees to safety, said she finds it “incredible” that the restriction would be eliminated while people continue dying from gun violence.

“What do they need, more people killed?” Cervantes said in Spanish. Cervantes said she hadn’t been aware of the bump stock development because her loss made her purposely avoid watching the news.

Meanwhile, the family continues honoring Silva, particularly during his Aug. 19 birthday. He would’ve turned 28 this year.

Robert Eglet, one of the lead attorneys for the victims who reached an $800 million settlement with MGM Resorts International in the wake of the mass shooting, said the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling is a “deeply troubling development” for public safety. He said the federal court has taken a position that “endangers us all,” by allowing access to a device that can turn weapons into tools of mass destruction.

“Allowing bump stocks to be legally accessible once again endangers our communities, undermines efforts to prevent mass shootings, and disregards the painful lessons learned from one of the deadliest mass shootings in American history,” Eglet said in a statement.

Eglet went on to argue that access to bump stocks serve no legitimate purpose for civilians.

“They are neither necessary for self-defense, nor for hunting, and their primary function is to dramatically increase a firearm’s rate of fire,” Eglet said in the statement.

Survivor Greg White, who at the time of the shooting was a police sergeant in Carlsbad, California, and used his knife to cut through a fence and help hundreds escape, said he still has the knife and still carries it everywhere. “It’s sitting on the desk right in front of me,” the 63-year-old said. He is also still in touch with a retired fire captain who also survived the shooting. They send each other things over Facebook every day.

He said he supports the Supreme Court, adding, “I’m not a cafeteria constitutionalist. I believe in all of them.”

White said perhaps bump stocks could be regulated because they modify the rifle or the manufacturer’s intent, but he said that based on the argument given, the court made the right decision. With a different argument, one about modification of manufacturer’s intent, he thinks a ban would be justified.

He thinks restricting people with mental issues, addictions, or violent felonies from having guns is appropriate.

“But I do believe that, for the most part, most citizens should be able to possess a firearm,” he said.

Nevada officials respond to ruling

Nevada’s elected officials — many of whom pushed for legislative changes following the Oct. 1 shooting — expressed disappointment Friday. They called on Congress to pass legislation banning bump stocks.

Democratic Rep. Dina Titus, who had introduced the Closing the Bump Stock Loophole Act that would codify the ATF ruling banning bump stocks and legislatively treat them as machine guns, said she was appalled.

“To this day, the Route 91 massacre in Las Vegas on October 1, 2017, remains the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history,” Titus, who represents the district where the shooting took place, said in a statement. “Let me be clear that the level of carnage we saw was enabled by bump stocks.”

Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo, who led the Metropolitan Police Department through the Oct.1 shooting when he was sheriff, said he was disappointed in the Supreme Court’s decision.

“While I have always been a supporter of the Second Amendment, I have been a vocal opponent of bump stocks since my time in law enforcement,” Lombardo said in a statement.

Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., said she was outraged by the decision.

“For years, this ban has been a common-sense, bipartisan approach to keeping communities safer, and this shameful decision will put more lives at risk,” Rosen said in a statement. “It’s more important than ever for Congress to come together in a bipartisan way and pass legislation to permanently ban bump stocks.”

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., said in a statement that she was “extremely disappointed” with the high court’s decision and echoed her colleagues’ calls on Congress to pass legislation. Cortez Masto is a co-sponsor of the Banning Unlawful Machinegun Parts (BUMP) Act, companion legislation to Titus’ bill that would enshrine a ban on bump stocks into federal law.

Metropolitan Police Department Sheriff Kevin McMahill said in a statement he respects the decision of the Supreme Court.

“As to the issue of bump stocks and their capabilities of producing automatic fire, listen to the audio of the 1 October shooting,” he said in the statement. “That night, 58 people were killed and 422 were injured by bump stock equipped rifles. The rate of fire was overwhelming.” Fifty-eight people were killed the night of the shooting, and two additional victims have since died from their wounds.

Democratic Attorney General Aaron Ford said he is sad that the violence of Oct. 1 was not enough for six of the Supreme Court justices, and said it is an example of a court that has “abdicated its responsibility to the American public.”

How it will impact Nevada

Following the deadly shooting in Las Vegas, state lawmakers took their own action to ban bump stocks.

Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui, who escaped gunfire at Route 91 physically unharmed, sponsored Assembly Bill 291 in 2019 to ban bump stocks. That law still stands, and the Supreme Court ruling does not change the existing state law.

“No community has felt the devastating impact of bump stocks more than Nevadans,” Jauregui said in a statement. “The Supreme Court ruling overturning a similar ban at the federal level is incredibly disheartening and will undoubtedly make communities less safe.”

Jauregui, a Democrat, said legislative Democrats are committed to passing gun violence prevention measures.

Shelbie Swartz, executive Director of Battle Born Progress and the Institute for a Progressive Nevada, said the Supreme Court ruling is narrow and really only says that the ATF does not have the authority to put a ban like that in place. Nevada’s ban is still upheld and safe, Swartz said.

“For the Supreme Court to strike down this ban that was put in place by the ATF, it’s really irresponsible,” Swartz said. “It’s out of touch with everyday Americans.”

President Biden weighs in

Following the ruling, President Joe Biden said the court’s decision strikes down an important gun safety regulation.

“Americans should not have to live in fear of this mass devastation,” Biden said in a statement.

Biden highlighted efforts his administration has done to take actions, such as passing the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act that included the establishment of the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention and included expanded background checks.

The president called on Congress to ban bump stocks, pass an assault weapons ban, and “take additional action to save lives — send me a bill and I will sign it immediately,” Biden said in the statement.

ATF Director Steven Dettelbach said in a statement posted to X the ATF is ready to work with Congress to ensure bump stocks “no longer pose a threat to American law enforcement and the people they protect.”

The New Civil Liberties Alliance, which brought the case, argued in a statement the ruling wasn’t just about bump stocks, but about agencies not regulating beyond their statutory authorization.

The NCLA said Congress needs to act if it wants to ban bump stocks, but ATF does not have the authority to expand the scope of criminal laws.

“NCLA is delighted that the Court has vindicated our client’s position that ATF does not have the power to rewrite criminal laws, said NCLA President Mark Chenoweth in a statement. “The statute Congress passed did not ban bump stocks, and ATF does not have the power to do so on its own.”

Contact Jessica Hill at jehill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @jess_hillyeah on X. Contact Noble Brigham at nbrigham@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BrighamNoble on X.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Staff writers Ricardo Torres-Cortez and Katelyn Newberg contributed to this report.

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