Gun Makers’ Fight to Circumvent Machine Gun Ban

On February 28th, the Supreme Court will hear “Garland v. Cargill,” a case that could legalize civilian ownership of devices called bump stocks, effectively allowing rapid-fire weapons similar to automatic weapons. This case hinges on a crucial question: can gun manufacturers bypass the ban on machine guns by using a loophole through bump stocks?

What are bump stocks and why are they controversial?

Bump stocks are attachments that utilize a gun’s recoil to repeatedly pull the trigger, enabling a semiautomatic weapon to fire like a fully automatic one. This sparked national debate after a gunman used a bump stock in the Las Vegas shooting, killing 60 people. In response, the Trump administration banned bump stocks in 2018, classifying them as machine guns under existing law.

The legal battle and Supreme Court’s potential shift:

However, lower courts have disagreed on whether bump stocks fit the legal definition of “machine gun.” If this case were decided a few years ago, the government’s position would likely prevail. The “Chevron deference” rule generally upholds federal agencies’ interpretations of ambiguous laws, favoring the existing bump stock ban.

However, the Supreme Court is likely to overturn Chevron in separate cases this year, giving them ultimate power to decide the fate of the ban. This means five justices’ personal views will likely determine whether bump stocks remain illegal.

Two key arguments in the case:

  1. “Single function of the trigger”: Does pulling the trigger once, which then rapidly fires due to the bump stock, count as “a single function”? The gun industry argues no, while the government sees the continuous firing as evidence of automatic functionality.
  2. Rule of lenity and presumption against ineffectiveness: Pro-gun groups argue ambiguity should favor defendants (rule of lenity), while the government emphasizes that laws shouldn’t be easily evaded (“presumption against ineffectiveness”).

Looking ahead:

This case highlights the complexities of interpreting laws and the potential impact of changing legal principles. Regardless of the outcome, it raises essential questions about gun control, public safety, and the evolving role of the Supreme Court in American law.

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