The Supreme Court on Friday struck down a federal ban on bump stocks, gun attachments that allow semi-automatic weapons to fire rapidly like machine guns.

What You Need To Know

  • The Supreme Court on Friday struck down a federal ban on bump stocks, gun attachments that allow semi-automatic weapons to fire rapidly like machine guns

  • The ban was put into place by the Trump administration in the wake of the 2017 Las Vegas massacre, the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history

  • The high court sided with a Texas gun shop owner who argued that the ATF overstepped when it classified bump stocks as machine guns under a federal firearms law that dates back to the 1930s

  • Friday's ruling is the latest instance of the conservative high court expanding gun rights

The ruling was 6-3 along the high court's ideological lines. The ban was put into place in 2018 by then-President Donald Trump's administration in the aftermath of the 2017 massacre in Las Vegas, when a gunman used firearms equipped with bump stocks to open fire at a country music festival, killing 60 people and injuring hundreds more.

But the high court sided with Michael Cargill, a Texas gun shop owner who argued that the ATF overstepped when it classified bump stocks as machine guns under a federal firearms law that dates back to the 1930s.

"Under the National Firearms Act of 1934, a 'machinegun' is 'any weapon which shoots, is designed to shoot, or can be readily restored to shoot, automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger,'" Justice Clarence Thomas, the ranking conservative judge on the high court, wrote in the majorty opinion. 

"Nothing changes when a semiautomatic rifle is equipped with a bump stock," Thomas explained. "The firing cycle remains the same. Between every shot, the shooter must release pressure from the trigger and allow it to reset before reengaging the trigger for another shot. A bump stock merely reduces the amount of time that elapses between separate “functions” of the trigger. The bump stock makes it easier for the shooter to move the firearm back toward his shoulder and thereby release pressure from the trigger and reset it. And, it helps the shooter press the trigger against his finger very quickly thereafter. A bump stock does not convert a semiautomatic rifle into a machinegun any more than a shooter with a lightning-fast trigger finger does."

"We conclude that semiautomatic rifle equipped with a bump stock is not a 'machinegun' because it does not fire more than one shot 'by a single function of the trigger,'" he later added.

But in a scathing dissent, liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor said that the ruling "hamstrings the Government’s efforts to keep machineguns from gunmen like the Las Vegas shooter" and could have "deadly consequences."

"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.

Friday's ruling is the latest instance of the conservative high court expanding gun rights. The Supreme Court in 2020 declined to take up an appeal to the bump stock ban, leaving the Trump-era regulation in place.

The Biden administration fought to keep the Trump administration's ban in place, arguing earlier this year that the bump stock ban fit the legal definition of a machine gun. The high court appeared torn during the oral arguments in February, but seemed to indicate that Congress should be the one to weigh in on the issue.

“Intuitively, I am entirely sympathetic to your argument,” Justice Amy Coney Barrett, a Trump appointee, argued at the time. “I think the question is, why didn’t Congress pass that legislation to make this cover it more clearly?”

President Joe Biden's reelection campaign blamed Trump for tilting the court's ideological balance, leading to the decision.

"Weapons of war have no place on the streets of America, but Trump’s Supreme Court justices have decided the gun lobby is more important than the safety of our kids and our communities," Biden-Harris Communications Director Michael Tyler said in a statement after the ruling. "If you care about the gun violence crisis in this country, there is only one candidate in this race with a proven record of successfully taking on the gun lobby and only one candidate who will ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. That's President Biden."

Trump's presidential campaign weighed in on the high court's decision by saying that the ruling "should be respected" and using it as an opportunity to attack Biden on the border, crime and the Second Amendment by claiming that the Democratic incumbent "wants to take that right [to bear arms] away from law-abiding Americans" -- even though the bump stock ban was enacted under Trump, and the high court's ruling did not reference the Second Amendment, but rather centered around the ATF's authority to enact the restriction.

"President Trump has been and always will be a fierce defender of Americans' Second Amendment rights and he is proud to be endorsed by the NRA," said Trump campaign National Press Secretary Karoline Leavitt in a statement. 

Gun safety advocates condemned the ruling and called for Congress to take action to address bump stocks.

"Weapons of war have no place on the streets of a civil society," Vice President Kamala Harris said in a statement. That is why Democrats and Republicans alike supported the federal government banning bump stocks after they were used to fire over 1,000 rounds into a crowded music festival in Las Vegas, killing 60 people in the deadliest mass shooting in American history. Unfortunately, today’s Supreme Court ruling strikes down this important, commonsense regulation on devices that convert semiautomatic rifles into weapons that can fire hundreds of bullets per minute."

"While the Supreme Court has once again rolled back progress, we will not allow the victims and survivors of 1 October to be forgotten," she continued. "President Biden and I fought to pass the most significant gun safety legislation in nearly 30 years, but our work is not done. We are calling on Congress to immediately ban bump stocks. We do not have a moment to spare nor a life to spare."

"Bump stocks turn semi-automatic weapons into fully automatic weapons," Giffords, the gun safety foundation founded by gun violence survivor and former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords, wrote on social media. "The court’s decision is reckless and dangerous. Congress must take immediate action to keep these automatic weapons out of our communities."

"A disgraceful decision by the Corrupt Supreme Court that will results in the death of more Americans, especially children," Florida Rep. Maxwell Frost, a Democrat, wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. "Congress must act swiftly to pass a Bump Stocks Ban. Time to Organize."

"This ruling fails the American people. 60 lives were stolen, hundreds injured, at the Vegas Route 91 festival in just over 10 minutes with the help of bump stocks," Rep. Andy Kim, a New Jersey Democrat running for U.S. Senate, wrote on X. "I voted to outlaw them to stop their carnage. Today’s ruling makes it critical Congress pass a ban NOW to save lives."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.