The Supreme Court sided with Donald Trump — and against gun rights activists — in a decision issued on Monday.
The high court declined to hear a challenge to the president’s ban on bump stocks, in a blow to Second Amendment supporters dissatisfied with the president’s perceived capitulation to gun control proponents. However, Justice Neil Gorsuch criticized the administration’s underlying rationale for the ban, saying it was dangerously deferential towards regulatory agencies and their power to interpret the law.
Supreme Court declines to hear challenge
Trump banned bump stocks, which modify a semiautomatic gun’s rate of fire, after the worst mass shooting in American history in 2017. The perpetrator of the Mandalay Bay massacre in Las Vegas used bump stocks in the slaughter of 58 people attending a music concert. Hundreds of others were wounded.
A bump stock allows a user to fire more than one round with a pull of the trigger. But under federal law, machine guns are illegal. The Trump administration used those grounds to ban bump stocks, which critics say essentially convert semi-automatic weapons into automatic ones.
Gun rights advocates were alarmed by the move, especially because the new policy was implemented by changing Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) regulations rather than through legislative procedure in Congress. The ATF changed its interpretation of “machine gun” under the National Firearms Act, and the policy took effect in March, CBS reported. Previously, the ATF had treated bump stocks as legal accessories.
The policy change turned owners of the roughly hundreds of thousands of bump stocks in private hands into felons overnight. Bump stock owners and gun rights groups challenged the ban, but lower courts upheld it last year, ruling that the ATF’s interpretation of a federal machine gun ban was reasonable.
The Supreme Court, by voting not to take up the case, is effectively leaving the bump stock ban in place. While technically a win for the Trump administration, it’s a loss for gun rights supporters who sued and for those who have singled out the bump stock policy as a notable instance of Trump backpedaling on the Second Amendment.
Gorsuch criticizes reasoning behind ban
In a statement expressing his concerns about the decision, Gorsuch agreed that the case should be dismissed now but attacked the spirit in which the bump stock ban was implemented, CBS reported. The justice criticized the courts for relying too heavily on the so-called Chevron principle, which calls for the courts to defer to regulatory policy when the letter of the law is unclear.
Conservatives have blamed Chevron for contributing to the growth of an unaccountable bureaucracy, also known as the administrative state.
“The agency used to tell everyone that bump stocks don’t qualify as ‘machine guns,'” Gorsuch wrote. “Now it says the opposite. The law hasn’t changed, only an agency’s interpretation of it. And these days it sometimes seems agencies change their statutory interpretations almost as often as elections change administrations.”
The plaintiffs argued that Chevron had been applied “in a manner that stretches that doctrine beyond its breaking point,” but Solicitor General, Noel Francisco, argued on behalf of the administration that the ATF’s policy was the “best interpretation” of the law.
Agree or disagree with the bump stock ban, Americans can all concur that letting bureaucrats create laws is a dangerous proposition indeed. One, it appears, that isn’t going away anytime soon.