On June 14, 2024, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision (“Opinion”) striking down the ATF’s Rule that banned bump stocks.  Contrary to main-stream media’s accounts, the Supreme Court did not legalize machineguns last Friday.  The Supreme Court merely upheld a bedrock principal of our form of government – Congress makes the laws and the Executive Branch (including the President and the ATF) enforces them. Here, ATF tried to make the law, and it was found to have overstepped its authority. 

A bump stock “replaces a semi automatic rifle’s stock. . .with a plastic casing that allows every other part of the rifle to slide back and forth,” which “helps manage the back-and-forth motion required for bump firing” and “also has a ledge to keep the shooter’s trigger finger stationary.” (Opinion at 3.)  A “bump stock does not alter the basic mechanics of bump firing,” and “[a]s with any semiautomatic firearm, the trigger still must be released and reengaged to fire each additional shot.”  (Id.)  The Court noted that, “[O]n more than 10 separate occasions over several administrations, ATF consistently concluded that rifles equipped with bump stocks” do not constitute machine guns, such that they would be subject to additional regulations.  (Id.)  But “ATF abruptly reversed course in response” to the October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas.  (Id. at 3–4.)  Specifically, ATF thereafter set forth a rule, 38 Fed. Reg. 13442 (“Rule”), which declared “that bump stocks are machineguns” and that bump stock owners must either “destroy or surrender them to ATF” or face “criminal prosecution.” (Opinion4–5.)

In evaluating the Rule, the Supreme Court went into great detail describing how a semi-automatic firearm operates (including detailed diagrams of the AR-15 trigger mechanism) and found “that a semiautomatic rifle equipped with a bump stock is not a machinegun because it cannot fire more than one shot by a single function of the trigger .. . [a]nd, even if it could, it would not do so automatically.”  (Id. at6.)  It is these two factors (single function of a trigger and automatically) that must be met for a firearm to be considered a machinegun under the National Firearms Act.  Thus, the Supreme Court held that ATF “exceeded its statutory authority by issuing a Rule that classifies bump stocks as machineguns.”  (Id.)  Therefore, the Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals invalidating the Rule.  (Id. at 19.)

While this is an important decision that holds ATF cannot rewrite or enact a law based on a specific event or an Administration’s policies, Congress is still free to pass legislation outlawing bump stocks. Also, of particular note, the Supreme Court distinguished between the bump stocks at issue in the case, which rely on a shooter’s manual holding of the firearm, and “mechanical bump stocks,” which “rely on an internal spring, rather than forward pressure from the shooter’s non trigger hand.”  (Id. at 3 n.1.)  The Supreme Court specifically noted that mechanical bump stocks are “not at issue in this case.”  This statement indicates that the Supreme Court’s decision does not impact the ATF’s prior rulings regarding mechanical bump stocks, or other devices that increase the rate of fire in semi-automatic firearms.

If you have any questions about the ATF regulations, firearms laws or legal challenges, please contact John F. Renzulli or Christopher Renzulli.