Team of attorneys general urge Supreme Court to ban bump stocks on guns

Michigan’s Dana Nessel has joined a group of 22 other attorneys general urging the Supreme Court to uphold a federal rule banning bump stocks, devices that effectively convert semiautomatic firearms into illegal automatic weapons.

In an amicus brief filed in Garland v. Cargill, the coalition urges the Supreme Court to overturn an appellate court’s decision striking down a 2018 regulation that clarified that the federal law banning machine guns also bans bump stock-type devices. The attorneys general assert that the rule aligns with longstanding policies prohibiting automatic weapons and argue that overturning it would pose a threat to public safety and the safety of law enforcement officers.

“Bump stock devices can transform a semi-automatic weapon into an automatic, military-grade weapon in every relevant sense,” said Nessel. “Skirting federal directives related to bump stocks puts public safety and law enforcement at risk. I wholeheartedly stand with my colleagues in asking the Supreme Court to uphold the validity of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms’ 2018 Final Rule.”

Federal law has strictly regulated fully automatic, military-grade weapons since 1934 and has banned civilian ownership of new automatic weapons since 1986. Bump stocks—devices that allow a user to fire multiple rounds in seconds with just one pull of a trigger — were created to evade federal regulations and are marketed as workarounds to the ban on automatic weapons. In 2017, the dangers of bump stocks became tragically clear when a man using weapons fitted with bump stocks murdered 58 people in Las Vegas. In response to that massacre, the Trump administration issued a regulation clarifying that a 1986 law making it a crime to own a machine gun also applies to bump stocks.

The 2018 regulation banning bump stocks has faced multiple court challenges, with three federal circuit courts of appeal declining to invalidate it. In a challenge before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, a three-judge panel of the court, also initially upheld the rule. However, the en banc (full) court reversed its decision, ruling that the law banning machine guns did not unambiguously encompass bump stocks and therefore, it could not be applied against bump stock owners. The case is now before the Supreme Court.

Nessel and the coalition are urging the Supreme Court to uphold the 2018 rule, asserting that the federal law banning automatic weapons clearly includes bump stocks. They argue that overturning the rule would undermine the nation’s nearly century-long effort to restrict civilian use of machine guns and would endanger both the public and law enforcement officers. Additionally, they highlight that at least eighteen jurisdictions have banned or regulated bump stocks, emphasizing that the 2018 rule is critical to fill gaps in state-by-state regulation of these extremely dangerous devices.

Supporting the ATF’s Rule banning bump stocks is Nessel’s most recent response to the widespread problem of gun violence in the country. Nessel has been an outspoken advocate for gun safety laws since taking office in 2019. Her national efforts include calling for regulations to help rid the streets of untraceable ghost guns, pushing for prohibitions banning handgun sales to those under 21, restricting firearms in the Capitol and other state buildings, and holding gun manufacturers more accountable when they violate state or federal laws.

In Michigan, Attorney General Nessel has supported and testified on behalf of legislation that establishes safe storage guidelines, expands the number of background checks for gun purchases, institutes an Extreme Risk Protection Order process and bars those convicted of misdemeanors involving domestic abuse from possessing or owning a firearm for eight years after their conviction. Governor Gretchen Whitmer has signed all of the measures into law, which will take effect on February 13, 2024.

A copy of the brief is available here.

District of Columbia Attorney General Brian L. Schwalb led the amicus brief. In addition to AG Nessel, AG Schwalb was joined by the attorneys general of Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

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