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Supreme Court overturns federal bump stock ban, siding with Austin gun dealer


Supreme Court overturns federal bump stock ban, siding with Austin gun dealer

Jun 14, 2024 | 12:20 pm ET
By Dante Motley
Texas state capitol

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An Austin gun shop owner succeeded Friday on a years-long quest to overturn a federal ban on bump stocks, winning a 6-3 victory from the U.S. Supreme Court.

Bump stocks are devices that allow semi-automatic rifles to fire hundreds of rounds in a minute. The court ruled the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives can not include bump stocks under legislation banning machine guns. The overturned ATF rule required owners of bump stocks to either destroy them or surrender them to the ATF to avoid criminal prosecution.

The case was filed by Michael Cargill, the owner of Central Texas Gun Works and an outspoken proponent of gun rights in Texas, after he surrendered two bump stocks to the ATF. He argued that ATF incorrectly identified bump stocks as machine guns, and overstepped its power in banning them. He brought the case with the support of the advocacy group the New Civil Liberties Alliance.

“This is a great victory for everyone in the country. Whether you're pro-gun, anti-gun is just not about firearms,” Cargill told The Texas Tribune. “This is about an administrative agency deciding that they're going to create a law and administrative agencies do not have the authority to do that. Only Congress can do that.”

The almost 100-year-old law banning machine guns defines the weapon as “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.” The ATF began including bump stocks under the definition of “machinegun” during the Trump administration in response to the deadly mass shooting on the Las Vegas Strip in 2017.

"We hold that a semiautomatic rifle equipped with a bump stock is not a ‘machinegun’ because it cannot fire more than one shot ‘by a single function of the trigger,’” wrote Clarence Thomas in the majority opinion. “And, even if it could, it would not do so ‘automatically.’”

Cargill said that he had to take on this case as the sole plaintiff because “no one wanted to help,” including the National Rifle Association. Cargill noted that at the time of the ban Donald Trump was president, and those he hoped would support him “didn't want to go against Trump.”

“I think of the Second Amendment as a right for the people. I don't care who's the president, who's in office and who's in charge,” Cargill said. “This was wrong. I was going to fight it. I'm glad I did it. I did it all by myself.”

This case does not directly address the Second Amendment but rather the limits of executive agencies’ authority, an approach Cargill defends despite some gun advocates telling him he should have taken “a more Second Amendment stance.”

“I needed to think of this case smartly, using our brains here and not thinking of everything as just about stripping the Second Amendment,” he said.

Once President Joe Biden was in office and the case continued inching toward the Supreme Court, Cargill began to see more support.

The ruling was a blow to gun control groups, many of which expressed disappointment and concern Friday.

“Make no mistake: This decision is dangerous, outdated, and WILL cost lives. We urge Texas lawmakers to take immediate action to address the loopholes in our gun laws that allow such dangerous devices to be legally possessed,” wrote Texas Gun Sense,a gun violence prevention and advocacy group, in an X.com post.

According to Cargill, he will be getting his two surrendered bump stocks back after going to a lower court for settlement. His store plans on selling bump stocks again as soon as he is able to have them shipped to the store.

After the ruling, journalists and excited customers seeking to congratulate Cargill flooded his store, he said. Excited himself by the ruling, Cargill hid in his car to take calls from The Texas Tribune and others.

In an X.com video, Cargill expressed hope that this ruling would prevent the ATF from banning other gun accessories like braces and triggers.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in a dissenting opinion joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson, disagreed with the majority’s interpretation. 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 argued that a bump-stock-equipped semiautomatic rifle fits the definition of a machine gun because it fires “automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger.”

As debates over gun control and Second Amendment rights continue, this ruling underscores the ongoing tension between legislative intent and regulatory authority.

Just in: Former U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming; U.S. Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pennsylvania; and Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt will take the stage at The Texas Tribune Festival, Sept. 5–7 in downtown Austin. Buy tickets today!