The phrase "bump stock" went from the limited lexicon of firearm aficionados into the popular culture following the massacre of over 50 concertgoers in Las Vegas in 2017. The devices use a semi-automatic rifle's recoil to fire more rapidly, and Stephen Paddock used them to fire more than 1,100 rounds from a 32nd floor suite at the Mandalay Bay hotel, killing 58 people and leaving 851 injured.
Since then, the U.S. Department of Justice reclassified bump stocks as "machine guns" under federal law, effectively banning them nationwide. Gun rights activists requested a preliminary injunction against the ban, but the Supreme Court rejected their request, meaning the bump stock ban will go into effect as planned.
Bump and Banned
There's not a lot of reasoning behind the Supreme Court's decision. "The application for stay, presented to The Chief Justice and by him referred to the Court," the order reads, "is denied." When the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld a lower court ruling that also denied a request for a preliminary injunction, it reasoned that the ATF did not act unreasonably when it reinterpreted the language banning machine guns to include bump stocks. The 2–1 majority held that the federal machine gun ban is genuinely ambiguous, which means courts should defer to executive branch's interpretation of the law.
Not all the Supreme Court Justices agreed, however. Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch would've granted the application for injunction until the Court could rule on the merits of the case. Justice Thomas is on record as believing that the government can't ban "types of firearms commonly used for a lawful purpose." Slate points out that Americans owned about 520,000 bump stocks before the federal ban went into effect, as only two states had outlawed bump stocks before the Las Vegas shooting.
Not Trigger Happy on Gun Control
The Supreme Court also rejected stay requests from gun rights advocates in Michigan and Washington, D.C. last week. That has led some to believe that the Court is not too eager to tackle gun rights cases (despite its conservative majority), especially not for a device used in a massacre.