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Supreme Court - Bump Stocks are not Machine Guns

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Link to Jerry Miculek video with bump stock

Bump stocks are not machine guns. Not only are they not machine guns in the legal definition, they are significantly different from machine guns in other ways as well.

In the recent Supreme Court decision on Garland v Cargill, Justice Clarance Thomas wrote:

A semiautomatic rifle equipped with a bump stock is not a “machinegun” as defined by §5845(b) because: (1) it cannot fire more than one shot “by a single function of the trigger” and (2) even if it could, it would not do so “automatically.”

Far left VOX claimed Thomas was lying. From

 The six Republican justices handed down a decision on Friday that effectively legalizes civilian ownership of automatic weapons. All three of the Court’s Democrats dissented.

In fairness, Ian Millhiser at Vox goes on to explain the arguments on both sides of the decision. Ian’s blind spot is in equating rate of fire with the definition of a machine gun. This is the argument put forward by the leftist justices. Ian incorrectly states it is illegal to own machine guns.

Machine guns are not defined in the law or in a practical sense by rate of fire. Simple skill can produce rates of fire in a revolver at the levels of common machine guns. As Justice Clarence Thomas notes, on page 12 of the opinion:

A bump stock does not convert a semi-automatic rifle into a machinegun any more than a shooter with a lightning-fast trigger finger does.

As noted in one of the lawsuits challenging the ATF administrative rule banning bump stocks, Jerry Miculek has demonstrated shooting a revolver at a faster rate than bump stocks generally do, at eight shots per second, or 480 shots per minute.    As noted in the legal brief:

Thus, as individuals can achieve, with greater accuracy, faster cyclic rates than those utilizing bump-stock-devices, the underlying premise of this proceeding is completely arbitrary and capricious.

Any law banning items based on a rate of fire would ban common revolvers and all semi-automatic firearms, because all can be fired at the same rate of fire without a bump stock as with a bump stock.  Because bump stocks typically move the trigger finger much further than is necessary with an ordinary semi-auto, the rate if fire with a bump stock will be less than that of a person with a “lightning-fast trigger finger“.

In specific, carefully controlled situations, semi-autos equipped with bump stocks can attain the same rate of fire as machine guns. So can people who train to fire semiautomatic rifles rapidly. During oral arguments in Garland v Cargill, on February 28, 2024, Justice Barrett said she watched all the videos explaining what bump stocks did and how they worked. Justice Barrett knew bump firing could be easily done without a bump stock. From the oral argument transcript, page 11:

JUSTICE BARRETT: Mr. Fletcher, so I did watch all of these videos and try to figure out exactly what this looks like. And I just want to ask you about this bump-firing thing.

Simple rate of fire does not make a machine gun effective. To be effective, a machine gun has to be controllable. Semi-autos equipped with bump fire stocks are more difficult to control than  machine guns.  Bump fire stocks are less reliable than machine guns.  Because bump stocks require a relatively complex balancing of tensions by the operator, they are far less reliable in practice than a machine gun.  If you had a choice between having an opponent armed with a machine gun or a semi-automatic equipped with a bump-fire stock, the obvious preference is for them to be equipped with a  bump stock, as the chances of malfunction are much greater.

Bump stocks are not as accurate as machine guns. Because the bump stock introduces movement in the stock of the firearm, and requires a balance of tensions by the shooter instead of a simple activation of the trigger, bump stocks are inherently less accurate.

Currently, the reason machine guns are not as protected by the Second Amendment as semi-automatic firearms is because semi-automatic firearms have been in common use in the United States for over a century. They are ubiquitous, as Justice Sotomeyor mentioned in the dissent of Garland v Cargill (bold added) :

He did so by affixing bump stocks to commonly available, semiautomatic rifles.

Semiautomatic rifles are commonly available. Machine guns are not. Under the Heller decision, reinforced by the Caetano and Bruen decisions, arms which are commonly available (in common use for lawful purposes) are protected by the Second Amendment.

This does not mean machine guns are not protected by the Second Amendment. The argument was never presented in the Gargill case. The Cargill case was about whether the ATF had the legal authority to change the law.  If, however, bump stocks are “machine guns” then machine guns are in common use; and machine guns are therefore protected by the Second Amendment.

This does not mean progressive judges will accept the Second Amendment at face value. Progressives look at outcomes they want, not at what the law says.  If the country ends up with a Progressive court some time in the future, they will ignore the Second Amendment again, or define it out of existence.

The wording of Justice Sotomeyor will be used in future legal actions to show even Justice Sotomeyor, on the record, admits semiautomatic firearms are commonly available.

©2024 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.

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