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Supreme Court declines to hear bump stock challenges

Updated October 3, 2022 - 6:12 pm

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear two challenges to the federal regulatory ban on bump stocks Monday, leaving in place a prohibition on the devices that were used in the Strip mass shooting.

Although the high court’s decision was “welcome news,” U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., said it was not the end of legal challenges and a possible future review by the court, which has previously ruled in favor of gun rights.

“Today’s action from the Supreme Court is a temporary victory,” Titus said.

The cases requesting Supreme Court review were brought by Gun Owners of America and a Utah gun lobbyist who bought a bump stock before the accessories were reclassified as machine guns by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. That reclassification made the devices illegal to sell or possess under the Gun Control Act, prompting legal challenges in federal courts nationwide by gun rights and civil liberties groups.

Supreme Court justices upheld the ATF ban after it was implemented in 2019.

The court again Monday rejected legal filings to review cases challenging the authority of the federal government to ban bump stocks, which are devices attached to semi-automatic, assault-style rifles to increase the rate of fire.

Appellate courts in Denver and Cincinnati have upheld the bans in split decisions, but a review of a case in the conservative New Orleans-based 5th Circuit Court of Appeals is ongoing. A ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse the ban could prompt the high court to revisit the regulatory change.

On Monday, the high court declined to hear cases stemming from the Denver and Cincinnati appellate court rulings.

The Denver case will now return to federal District Court, where arguments will center on whether existing law gives the government the authority to regulate bump stocks, said Rich Samp, attorney for the New Civil Liberties Alliance. Samp said he will argue the “bump stock ban is inconsistent with the statutory definition of a ‘machine gun.’”

Samp also argued the case before the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. He urged judges to throw out the ban due to lack of authority of the executive branch to interpret the statute. Samp said it is Congress, not federal agencies, that have jurisdiction to write gun laws.

With legal challenges to the ATF regulation, Titus filed a bump stock ban bill in the House last year that would provide a legislative prohibition on the devices. It was backed by Nevada Democratic Reps. Susie Lee and Steven Horsford.

The bump stock legislation by Titus was included in a package of gun reform bills passed by the House after the Uvalde, Texas shooting this year, earlier this year. But it was stripped from a Senate version of the bill that included only reporting and gun background reforms to garner support of Republicans, who opposed bans on bump stocks and other measures.

U.S. Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, both Nevada Democrats, voted for the Senate bill that was signed into law. Both had backed measures to ban bump stocks, high-capacity magazines and other reforms.

Rosen applauded the Supreme Court decision on Monday.

“I’m glad to see the bump stock ban remain in place, but the ongoing effort to overturn it is exactly why I will continue urging my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to take action and pass legislation to ban bump stocks permanently,” she said.

The reclassification by ATF was the result of a review ordered by former President Donald Trump after the Oct. 1, 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas where a gunman used weapons equipped with bump stocks to kill 60 people and injure hundreds more in just 10 minutes.

Bump stocks were attached to more than a dozen semi-automatic rifles used by the gunman in what the FBI has listed as the worst mass shooting in recent U.S. history.

After the tragedy, Republicans in Congress, including U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei and then-U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, both of Nevada, urged the Trump administration to seek a regulatory ban on bump stocks to avoid congressional overreach and infringement of constitutionally protected gun rights.

Bump stocks were approved for sale and possession by ATF during the Obama administration, after manufacturers and dealers sought guidance on the products.

The lack of congressional action after the mass shooting in Las Vegas led several states, including Nevada, to ban bump stocks.

The National Rifle Association initially urged the Trump administration to seek regulatory action on bump stocks, but later opposed the ban and has joined other gun-rights groups in seeking a reversal in court.

But the NRA opposed the ATF ban, and has joined other gun rights groups seeking a reversal in appellate courts.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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