WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a pair of challenges to a federal ban on bump stocks, a device that lets a shooter fire a semi-automatic rifle more like a machine gun – avoiding a chance to put guns on the high court's docket for the second time in as many years.
While the ban is opposed by gun rights advocates, the legal question in the cases dealt not with the Second Amendment but rather with whether the Trump administration exceeded its authority under a 1986 law. In that sense, the case could have had broad implications for decisions made by federal agencies on a host of other issues.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives approved the ban following the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas. A retired postal worker on the 32nd floor of a hotel killed 60 people, according to a revised count of the dead in 2020.
Bump stocks, which use the recoil of a semi-automatic firearm to mimic automatic firing, were found on the shooter's rifles, authorities said.
A 1986 law defines a machine gun as a weapon that fires more than one shot automatically "by a single function of the trigger." Such weapons have been heavily regulated since the 1930s because of their use by organized crime. After the Las Vegas shooting, the ATF interpreted the 1986 law's definition of machine guns to include bump stocks.
The litigation challenges the power agencies have to create regulations when the law those rules are based on is unclear. Conservatives for years have sought to limit agency discretion and that argument seems to be gaining traction with the high court.
Two cases dealing with bump stocks had been pending at the Supreme Court. In Aposhian v. Garland, the Denver-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit upheld the ban. In Gun Owners of America v. Garland, the Cincinnati-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit also upheld the law after an evenly split vote.
In a major guns decision in June, the Supreme Court ruled that a New York law that made it harder for state residents to carry handguns in public violated the Second Amendment. The 6-3 majority in that decision also embraced a new legal standard that puts a greater emphasis on historical analysis of gun regulations and may make it harder for gun control advocates to defend gun laws not linked to the country's history or traditions.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Supreme Court turns away challenge to Trump-era ban on bump stocks