Appeals court blocks bump stock ban

AP Photo/Allen G. Breed, File

During the Trump administration, a ban on bump stocks was passed in the wake of the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas. That law has been the target of multiple challenges, almost all from gun rights groups. On Friday, a federal appeals court in Louisiana struck down the law, finding that under the plain language of the Gun Control Act and National Firearms Act, a bump stock “is excluded from the technical definition of ‘machinegun’ as defined” in those statutes. The BATFE and the Biden administration disagree and are fighting to keep the ban in place. This ruling does not mean that the ban is now lifted. It just means that the lower court who originally ruled in favor of the ban will have to revisit its decision. (Associated Press)


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 by a federal appeals court in New Orleans.

The ban was instituted after a gunman perched in a high-rise hotel using bump stock-equipped weapons massacred dozens of people in Las Vegas in 2017. Gun rights advocates have challenged it in multiple courts. The 13-3 ruling at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of appeals is the latest on the issue, which is likely to be decided at the Supreme Court.

The decision doesn’t have an immediate effect on the ban though because the case now moves back to the lower court to decide how to proceed.

As noted in the linked report, all of these cases involving bump stocks are rather unusual because they are not technically Second Amendment challenges. What’s being argued here is the specific wording of two federal statutes and if or how they might apply to bump stocks.

To be honest, I had never even heard of a bump stock until the 2017 Vegas shooting, so I’ve had to learn as I go since then. But I have come to agree that bumps stocks do not fall under the Second Amendment. The bump stock itself is not a firearm. It’s an accessory of a firearm. If you remove the bump stock, you still have a functional weapon while the bump stock is then nothing more than a potential club.


I also agree that a bump stock does not transform a semiautomatic rifle into a machine gun. The two laws in question specifically define a machine gun as a firearm capable of firing more than one round with a single pull of the trigger. The bump stock doesn’t make the rifle capable of doing that. It just allows you to repeatedly pull the trigger very rapidly.

That was a sticking point in this case. In 2018, the ATF changed its own definitions to lump bump stocks in with machine guns. But as Julia Shapero points out at The Hill, the ATF’s explanation is simply a matter of semantics and the court saw it that way as well.

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.”


As to the idea of banning them, I return to the definition of a bump stock being an accessory. In that regard, it can be thought of as being in the same category as a scope or a laser sight. Both of those items might be considered as something that would make the rifle “more deadly” if only in terms of accuracy. But neither of them are firearms, just as a bump stock isn’t. You can remove your scope and your laser sight and you’d still have a functional firearm.

So could the government ban scopes or laser sights? I’ll leave that question as a “maybe” (provided they worded the law carefully) and let the lawyers and firearms experts weigh in on it. But if such a ban were put in place and then blocked by the courts, it wouldn’t be on the grounds of the Second Amendment. You have an inalienable right to keep and bear arms, but the Bill of Rights didn’t grant you any such assurance regarding accessories.

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