Biden appeals ruling against ban on gun bump stocks

By Andrew Chung

(Reuters) – President Joe Biden’s administration on Friday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its appeal of a lower court ruling against a federal ban on “bump stock” devices that enable semiautomatic weapons to fire like machine guns.

The administration is defending the ban, imposed under former President Donald Trump, against a challenge by Michael Cargill, a gun shop owner and gun rights advocate from Austin, Texas. The ban was a rare firearms control measure in the United States prompted by a 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas.

In January, the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Cargill, concluding that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), a U.S. Justice Department agency, impermissibly reclassified bump stocks as machine guns, which are forbidden under U.S. law.

That decision “threatens significant harm to public safety,” the Justice Department said in its appeal on Friday. “Bump stocks allow a shooter to fire hundreds of bullets a minute by a single pull of the trigger. Like other machine guns, rifles modified with bump stocks are exceedingly dangerous.”

Three other federal appeals courts previously upheld the bump stock ban. The Supreme Court, which expanded gun rights in a major decision last year, declined to review those cases.

Bump stocks use a semiautomatic’s recoil to allow it to slide back and forth while “bumping” the shooter’s trigger finger, resulting in rapid fire.

After a gunman used weapons outfitted with bump stocks in a 2017 shooting spree at a country music festival in Las Vegas, killing 58 people and wounding hundreds more, Trump’s administration moved to review their legality.

In its 2019 rule, ATF reversed a previous conclusion and classified bump stocks as machine guns, defined under a 1934 law called the National Firearms Act as weapons that can “automatically” fire more than one shot “by a single function of the trigger.” Federal law prohibits the sale or possession of machine guns, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Cargill sued, challenging the ATF’s rule in 2019, which required him to surrender his two bump stocks. He is represented by the New Civil Liberties Alliance, a conservative legal group.

The Supreme Court, in a 6-3 ruling powered by its conservative justices, in June 2022 declared for the first time that the U.S. Constitution protects the right to carry a handgun in public for self-defense.

Two days after that ruling, Biden signed into law the first major federal gun reform in three decades. The legislation followed mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas and Buffalo, New York that killed more than 30 people, including 19 children at an elementary school.

In January, a full slate of 5th Circuit judges ruled 13-3 in Cargill’s favor, but left it for a trial judge to determine whether to throw out the ATF rule.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

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