Court Battles

Appeals court strikes down ban on gun ‘bump stocks’

FILE – A bump stock is displayed on March 15, 2019, in Harrisonburg, Va. A Trump administration ban on bump stocks, devices that enable a shooter to rapidly fire multiple rounds from semi-automatic weapons after an initial trigger pull, was struck down Friday, Jan. 6, 2023, by a federal appeals court in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

A federal appeals court on Friday struck down a Trump-era rule that banned certain types of “bump stocks,” which can be added to semi-automatic weapons to increase their firing rate.

The 2018 rule from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) was instituted in the wake of the October 2017 shooting in Las Vegas. The gunman used weapons equipped with bump stocks to kill 58 people and injure at least 850 more. It remains the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

The rule has survived several other challenges in court and was initially upheld by a three-judge panel at the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. However, the full court voted to rehear the case and overturned the panel’s decision.

At the center of the lawsuit is the specific language of a federal ban on machine guns, particularly its definition of a machine gun as a weapon that fires more than one shot “automatically” with a “single function of the trigger.”

Before the 2017 shooting, ATF maintained that there was a difference between mechanical and non-mechanical bump stocks, which meant mechanical bump stocks were categorized as machine guns while their non-mechanical counterparts were not.

In 2018, ATF changed its position to categorize non-mechanical bump stocks as machine guns as well, arguing that a “single function of the trigger” means “a single pull of the trigger.”

Bump stocks allow semi-automatic weapons to fire more than one shot with a “single pull of the trigger” by using the gun’s recoil energy to reset the trigger “without additional physical manipulation of the trigger by the shooter,” according to ATF.

However, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals argued in Friday’s ruling that the statute’s language only refers to the movement of the trigger itself and not the action of the shooter. 

“[There] is no mention of a shooter. The grammatical structure continuously points the reader back to the mechanics of the firearm,” the court said. “The statute does not care what human input is required to activate the trigger—it cares only whether more than one shot is fired each time the trigger acts.”

The federal appeals court also found that the non-mechanical bump stock is not “self-acting” and can’t be considered automatic because it requires a particular technique from the shooter.

Tags Bump stock Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Las Vegas Las Vegas shooting machine guns Semi-automatic rifles

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