Justice Sotomayor warns of ‘deadly consequences’ after Supreme Court conservatives reverse ban on bump stocks

Gun reform advocates blast Supreme Court ruling that puts ‘countless lives in danger’

Alex Woodward
Friday 14 June 2024 17:10 BST
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A gun salesman demonstrates a bump stock on an AR-style rifle in Virgina. On June 14, the US Supreme Court reversed a federal ban on the devices.
A gun salesman demonstrates a bump stock on an AR-style rifle in Virgina. On June 14, the US Supreme Court reversed a federal ban on the devices. (AFP via Getty Images)

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Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor ripped into a ruling that lets gun owners turn semi-automatic firearms into machine guns, seven years after a man fired off more than 1,000 rounds at a Las Vegas concert with a bump stock-equipped AR-15 rifle in 10 minutes.

“Bump stock” devices were later banned under then-President Donald Trump, but the high court’s conservative majority now puts them “back in civilian hands,” Sotomayor wrote in a desenting opinion released on Friday.

The court’s ruling “eviscerates” federal law and “casts aside” the plain meaning of “machinegun” under Congress, she wrote.

“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,” she 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.”

Reversing a ban on bump stocks “will have deadly consequences,” she added.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor ripped into a ruling that lets gun owners turn semi-automatic firearms into machine guns saying it could have “deadly consequences”
Justice Sonia Sotomayor ripped into a ruling that lets gun owners turn semi-automatic firearms into machine guns saying it could have “deadly consequences” (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

The 1934 National Firearms Act bans “parts designed and intended, for use in converting a weapon into a machinegun.”

But under the 6-3 opinion written by conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, a bump stock-equipped semiautomatic rifle is not a machinegun because “it cannot fire more than one shot ‘by a single function of the trigger’ and … even if it could, it would not do so ‘automatically.’”

“The majority’s artificially narrow definition hamstrings the Government’s efforts to keep machineguns from gunmen like the Las Vegas shooter,” Sotomayor wrote in her dissent, which she read from the bench inside the court on Friday.

“This is not a hard case,” she wrote. “All of the textual evidence points to the same interpretation,”

She blasted the conservative majority’s interpretation for seemingly ignoring common sense and instead relying on obscure technical arguments, requiring “six diagrams and an animation to decipher the meaning of the statutory text.”

Gun reform advocates also slammed the ruling in Garland v Cargill, warning that the court opened the door for more mass violence.

A gun salesman demonstrates a bump stock on an AR-style rifle in Virgina. On June 14, the US Supreme Court reversed a federal ban on the devices.
A gun salesman demonstrates a bump stock on an AR-style rifle in Virgina. On June 14, the US Supreme Court reversed a federal ban on the devices. (AFP via Getty Images)

“The Supreme Court has put countless lives in danger,” according to a statement from Everytown. “Congress can and should right this deadly wrong by passing bipartisan legislation to ban bump stocks that has already been introduced in the House and Senate.”

Reversing a ban on bump stocks “means an attack of this level could happen again,” said Moms Demand Action, referencing the Las Vegas massacre.

There have been more than 200 mass shootings in the US this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, which tracks incidents in which four or more people are killed or injured from gun violence.

Following the ruling, President Joe Biden demanded Congress enact legislation that would formally ban bump stocks, and to reinstate an assault weapons ban – a plea he has made dozens of times since taking office to no avail.

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