ATF’s Bump Stock Ban Heard in Supreme Court for Garland v. Cargill

Slide Fire SSAK-47 HYB Bump Fire Stock
Slide Fire SSAK-47 HYB Bump Fire Stock

Today, the Supreme Court of The United States heard oral arguments in Garland v. Cargill, which will determine the legality of bump stocks across the country.

Michael Cargill, a Texas resident, sued the federal government over the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) rule banning bump stocks and declaring them to be machine guns. The rule was created at the urging of then-President Donald Trump after a Las Vegas shooting in which the shooter allegedly used an AR-15 equipped with a bump stock to kill 50 people in 2017.

Instead of Congress passing a new law, the ATF created a new administrative rule changing its long-standing opinion that bump stocks are not machine guns. This new rule had the force of law. Congress was unwilling to enact a law banning the device. Many in the gun community took issue with the Bureau’s action and claimed that they overstepped their power and made a de facto law.

Mr. Cargill lost in a Texas Federal District Court and appealed the court’s decision to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The en banc of the Fifth Circuit sided with Cargill by a 13 to 3 margin, citing that the ATF violated the Administrative Procedures Act (APA). Although that was key in the Fifth Circuit case, that issue did not arise in the oral arguments before SCOTUS.

The argument before the Supreme Court centers around what a “single function of the trigger” is. The government insists that a single function of the trigger is the original pull and any action after the pull of the trigger. The government lawyer also argued that the forestock is part of a trigger.

The plaintiffs claim that the function of the trigger is limited to the mechanical action of the trigger itself. The lawyers for Mr. Cargill stated that since the user must manually push forward on the forestock, shooting multiple rounds using a bump stock is not automatic and does not convert the firearm into a machine gun.

Justice Samuel Alito seemed to agree with the plaintiffs and asked why the releasing of the hammer by the sear was not considered the function of the trigger. Judge Clarence Thomas also seemed hostile towards the government’s decision to reclassify bump stocks as machine guns. The other conservative justices didn’t seem to be in the same camp.

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was openly hostile towards the plaintiff’s stance. She tried to state that if something makes a gunfire rapidly, it should be a machine gun. She seemed unfamiliar with firearm operation and firearm technology.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor tried to argue that it isn’t about the function of the trigger but is about the function of the shooter. Justice Sotomayor seemed to be arguing that bump stocks violate the spirit of the law rather than the actual text of the National Firearms Act (NFA).

Justice Elena Kagan, through multiple hypothetical arguments, tried to imply that the bump stock is a device designed to circumvent the law regulating machine guns. Justice Kagan even asked about a voice-activated trigger, which doesn’t exist. She seemed to be taking the stance of Justice Sotomayor.

The plaintiff’s lawyer spent most of the time being grilled by the justices over the arguments. It is hard to determine what the conservative justices will do in the case, but there is no doubt what the liberal justices will do.

About John Crump

John is a NRA instructor and a constitutional activist. John has written about firearms, interviewed people of all walks of life, and on the Constitution. John lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and sons and can be followed on Twitter at @crumpyss, or at

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