Alito: Congress can act on bump stocks after Supreme Court lifts Trump-era ban

Justice Samuel Alito on Friday asserted that Congress could amend the law to successfully ban bump stocks in an opinion concurring with the Supreme Court’s decision Friday to invalidate a Trump-era ban on the devices.

The ban on bump stocks, which allow semi-automatic weapons to fire hundreds of rounds per minute, was implemented by the Trump administration in the wake of the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting, where a shooter used a bump stock to kill 60 people and wound hundreds of others — the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

The Biden administration later defended the regulation, which was challenged in 2019, before the high court. Both administrations made possessing the devices a criminal offense by newly classifying them as machine guns under long-standing federal law.

Alito, in his opinion, wrote that he agreed the ban should be lifted “because there is simply no other way to read the statutory language.” However, he acknowledged that the Congress that passed the law banning machine guns in 1934 would not have seen “any material difference” between a machine gun and a semiautomatic rifle equipped with a bump stock.

“The horrible shooting spree in Las Vegas in 2017 did not change the statutory text or its meaning. That event demonstrated that a semiautomatic rifle with a bump stock can have the same lethal effect as a machinegun, and it thus strengthened the case for amending §5845(b),” Alito wrote. “But an event that highlights the need to amend a law does not itself change the law’s meaning.

“There is a simple remedy for the disparate treatment of bump stocks and machineguns,” he continued. “Congress can amend the law—and perhaps would have done so already if ATF had stuck with its earlier interpretation. Now that the situation is clear, Congress can act.”

The Supreme Court decided 6-3 along ideological lines that the classification of bump stocks as machine guns is an impermissible reading of the law. Conservative Justice Clarence Thomas authored the majority opinion.

The high court’s liberal justices, in an opinion authored by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, staunchly opposed the majority decision.

“When I see a bird that walks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duck,” Sotomayor wrote. “A bump-stock-equipped semiautomatic rifle fires ‘automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger.’ Because I, like Congress, call that a machinegun, I respectfully dissent.”

An Austin-based gun store owner originally challenged the ban after surrendering two bump stocks in 2019. The National Rifle Association and other major pro-gun groups backed his effort.

The case did not touch on Second Amendment rights, instead questioning whether the Trump administration — via the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — stretched the statutory definition of machine guns too far to cover bump stocks.

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