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Supreme Court to Reexamine Trump-Era Gun Stockpile Ban

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court embarked on a new gun rights battle Friday by agreeing to consider whether the Trump-era ban on so-called bump stocks, which allow semi-rigid rifles -automatic fire faster, is legal.

The Biden administration and gun rights activists have asked judges to take up the issue, with lower courts reaching divergent conclusions on the matter.

The case involves Texas-based gun owner and licensed dealer Michael Cargill, who owned two bump stocks before the ban took effect and later returned them to the government. He sued, claiming the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives lacked the legal authority to implement the ban.

The conservative-majority high court issued a major ruling in June 2022 expanding gun rights, although the legal issues arising from banning bump stocks are different.

Bump Stocks are accessories for semi-automatic rifles, such as the popular AR-15 style weapons. They use the recoil energy of a trigger to allow the user to fire up to hundreds of rounds per minute.

President Donald Trump’s administration imposed the ban after the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting, when Stephen Paddock used emergency bullets to open fire on a country music festival, initially killing 58 people. Paddock committed suicide as he was about to be apprehended.

This ban constitutes a rare example of action by a Republican administration on gun control.

This policy took effect in 2019 after the Supreme Court refused to block it. Since then, the already conservative court has leaned further to the right, with conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett, a Trump appointee, replacing liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died in 2020.

The court, with its new 6-3 conservative majority, ruled for the first time in the June 2022 gun rights decision that the right to bear arms under the Constitution’s Second Amendment protects the right individual to carry a handgun outside the home. The ruling represents the most significant expansion of gun rights since the Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that there is an individual right to carry a weapon for self-defense in one’s home.

Next week, the justices will hear a follow-up case testing the scope of their 2022 ruling on whether people accused of domestic violence have the right to own guns.

The wholesale stock challenge does not implicate the scope of the right to bear arms. Opponents argue that the government does not have the authority to ban bump stocks under the National Firearms Act, a law passed in 1934 to regulate machine guns.

The Gun Control Act of 1968 expanded the definition of “machine gun” to include accessories “intended to convert a weapon” into a machine gun, and the ATF concluded that bump stocks met that definition.

Those challenging the ban have said the legal definition of machine gun has been distorted beyond recognition and argue that courts should not defer to the federal agency’s interpretation.

In October 2022, the Supreme Court dismissed two previous cases brought by gun rights advocates challenging the bump stocks ban.

Today, the legal landscape is different, with the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that the ban was illegal.

The Biden administration appealed both cases, while gun rights advocates asked the justices to hear their appeal of a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that confirmed the ban.

The court also took up a second gun rights case Friday, over the National Rifle Association’s claim that a New York state official’s alleged role in urging companies to end their ties to the gun rights group constituted unlawful coercion.

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