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High court to address bump stocks

Expected soon is a U.S. Supreme Court decision that will affect guns.

Yet by all indications, the decision won’t be about the Second Amendment.

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This action — Garland v. Cargill — addresses bump stocks.

Central to this action is the National Firearms Act’s machine gun definition.

When reading the definition, focus on the phrase “a single function of the trigger,” because that’s where the parties substantially focus: “The term ‘machinegun’ means any weapon which shoots, is designed to shoot, or can be readily restored to shoot, automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger. The term shall also include the frame or receiver of any such weapon, any part designed and intended solely and exclusively, or combination of parts designed and intended, for use in converting a weapon into a machine gun, and any combination of parts from which a machine gun can be assembled if such parts are in the possession or under the control of a person.”

What such a statute, passed by Congress and signed by a president, says is one thing.

Whether a regulation that an agency enacts is consistent with the statute is a different question.

The latter is the issue before the court.

According to the parties, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF, previously considered bump stocks not to be machineguns. In 2018, however, ATF reversed course.

This is significant, because the National Firearms Act has a machine gun ban.

After ATF reversed course, Plaintiff Michael Cargill surrendered bump stocks under protest and filed suit asserting ATF had erred in 2018.

A federal-district court in Texas sided with ATF. A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit–which includes Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas–affirmed the district court. However, the full Fifth Circuit reversed and sided with Cargill.

The Supreme Court granted ATF’s request to take the challenge.

Looking to the machine gun definition, the challenge appears to turn on whether a bump stock allows a “weapon … to shoot, automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger.”

ATF says “yes,” while Cargill says “no.”

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To understand the parties’ positions, one needs to understand the difference between a machine gun and a semi-automatic.

As Cargill explains, “Machineguns differ from ‘semi(-)automatic’ weapons (also called ‘self-loading’ or ‘auto-loading’ firearms), which automatically load a new cartridge into the chamber after firing, yet still require the shooter to re-activate the trigger before a subsequent shot is fired. A machine gun, by contrast, will fire more than one shot if the shooter holds down the trigger; a semi-automatic weapon will fire only once unless the shooter releases and re-engages the trigger between shots.”

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What’s a bump stock?

ATF writes, “A bump stock replaces a rifle’s stock–i.e., the part of the rifle that rests against the shooter’s shoulder. Unlike a standard stock, a bump stock allows the rifle’s upper assembly to slide back and forth in the stock.

“To initiate a firing sequence with the type of bump stock at issue in this case, the shooter either pulls the firearm’s trigger, or slides the (upper assembly) forward in the bump stock, pressing the trigger into his trigger finger. The bump stock then maintains a continuous firing cycle as long as the shooter keeps his trigger finger stationary on the finger rest and uses his non-trigger hand to maintain constant forward pressure on the rifle’s barrel or front grip.”

Cargill counters that “for two separate and independent reasons” under the statute, this doesn’t turn a semi-automatic with a bump stock into a machine gun.

“First, a bump stock does not cause a semi-automatic rifle to fire more than one shot ‘by a single function of the trigger.’ That is because the trigger of the gun resets — and must be reactivated by the shooter — between every single shot that is fired from a bump stock-equipped weapon. And that means there is only one shot per ‘function’ of the trigger. A bump stock accelerates firing by causing repeated ‘functions’ of the trigger to occur in rapid succession; it does not produce multiple shots in response to a ‘single function’ of the trigger.

“Second, even if … non-mechanical bump stocks enable a semi-automatic rifle to fire more than one shot ‘by a single function of the trigger,’ they do not do so ‘automatically’ because the shooter must continually thrust the barrel or front grip of the rifle forward with his non-trigger hand for each cartridge he wants to shoot, while simultaneously applying rearward pressure on the weapon with his trigger hand. These are manual functions, and there is no component in Cargill’s bump stocks that ‘automates’ the repeated firing of shots.”

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Randy Elf will stay tuned for this decision.

COPYRIGHT 2024 BY RANDY ELF

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