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Advocates reiterate call for Maine to pass bump stock ban after Supreme Court ruling


Advocates reiterate call for Maine to pass bump stock ban after Supreme Court ruling

Jun 14, 2024 | 2:25 pm ET
By Evan Popp Ariana Figueroa
Advocates reiterate call for Maine to pass bump stock ban after Supreme Court ruling
A 7.62X39mm round sits next a a 30-round magazine and an AK-47 with a bump stock installed at Good Guys Gun and Range in Orem, Utah, on Feb. 21, 2018. The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday struck down a 2018 rule to ban bump stocks, which allow semiautomatic rifles to fire at a rapid rate similar to fully automatic guns. (George Frey/Getty Images)

After the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday struck down a ban on bump stocks, a local gun safety group reiterated that Maine should ban such devices at the state level — an effort that was blocked by Gov. Janet Mills after passing the Legislature last session.   

The high court overturned a rule enacted under the Trump administration that defined a semiautomatic rifle equipped with a bump stock attachment as a machine gun, which are generally prohibited under federal law. The regulation was put in place after a 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas in which a gunman used rifles outfitted with bump stocks to fire into a crowd at a music festival, killing 58 people and injuring more than 500.

Friday’s 6-3 decision broke along the court’s established ideological lines, with conservative justices voting to overturn the regulation. 

The opinion, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, reduces the executive branch’s already-limited ability to address gun violence. Thomas, a strong defender of Second Amendment gun rights, wrote that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives exceeded its statutory authority in prohibiting the sale and possession of bump stocks, which he said differed importantly from machine guns.

In Maine, bump stocks were also a major point of debate this year. Following the Oct. 25 mass shooting in Lewiston, lawmakers passed several gun safety reform measures, including a bill that sought to ban conversion devices like bump stocks.

Issuing final say on gun reforms, Mills OKs waiting period, vetoes bump stock bill

However, Mills, a Democrat, vetoed the bump stock measure in April, arguing that the bill could unintentionally ban weapons that responsible gun owners use for hunting or target shooting. And while Mills agreed that semi-automatic firearms converted into the functional equivalent of a machine gun should be restricted, she said certain language in the bill could have “unintended consequences.”

Nacole Palmer, executive director of the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, which supported the state-level bump stock ban, expressed disappointment after the Supreme Court’s ruling on Friday. Palmer said the court’s decision means it’s even more important that Maine lawmakers take action to ban bump stocks because “de facto machine guns have no place in our communities.”

“We were glad that a bump stock ban passed both chambers of the Maine Legislature this past session, and we hope to work with our allies in the Legislature to craft a new bump stock ban that will again pass both houses with the hopes of gaining the governor’s approval next year,” she said. 

Mills’ office did not respond to a request for comment. 

Call for federal legislation

At the federal level, the Supreme Court’s decision was met with criticism from President Joe Biden. 

“Today’s decision strikes down an important gun safety regulation,” Biden said in a statement. “Americans should not have to live in fear of this mass devastation.”

Biden called on Congress to ban bump stocks and assault weapons, but any gun-related legislation is likely to be stalled with Republicans controlling the House and Democrats holding only a slim majority in the Senate.

“Bump stocks have played a devastating role in many of the horrific mass shootings in our country, but sadly it’s no surprise to see the Supreme Court roll back this necessary public safety rule as they push their out of touch extreme agenda,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, said.

Schumer also said Democrats in the Senate are “ready to pass legislation to ban bump stocks but we will need votes from Senate Republicans.”

In response to a question about a potential bill banning bump stocks, a spokesperson for Sen. Angus King pointed to legislation the Maine independent introduced in November after the Lewiston mass shooting that would, among other provisions, prohibit conversion devices such as bump stocks.

Maine’s other senator, Republican Susan Collins, did not immediately respond to a request for comment about her position on legislation banning bump stocks. However, both Collins and King are cosponsors of another bill to prohibit the sale of bump stocks. 

In his majority opinion, Thomas wrote that, “nothing changes when a semiautomatic rifle is equipped with a bump stock.” 

“Between every shot, the shooter must release pressure from the trigger and allow it to reset before reengaging the trigger for another shot,” he said. 

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the senior member of the court’s liberal wing, penned the dissent. 

“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 machine gun, I respectfully dissent.”