WASHINGTON, DC – Attaching a bump stock to a rifle does not make it a machinegun, and thus the federal agency ban on bump stocks is illegal under federal law, the Supreme Court held on Friday.

“Congress has long restricted access to ‘machineguns,’ a category of firearms defined by the ability to ‘shoot, automatically more than one shot . . . by a single function of the trigger.’ Semiautomatic firearms, which require shooters to reengage the trigger for every shot, are not machineguns,” Justice Clarence Thomas began in the majority opinion. “This case asks whether a bump stock—an accessory for a semiautomatic rifle that allows the shooter to rapidly reengage the trigger (and therefore achieve a high rate of fire)—converts the rifle into a ‘machinegun.’ We hold that it does not and therefore affirm.”

“Shooters have devised techniques for firing semiautomatic firearms at rates approaching those of some machineguns,” Thomas gives as background information. “One technique is called bump firing. A shooter who bump fires a rifle uses the firearm’s recoil to help rapidly manipulate the trigger.”

“The question in this case is whether a bump stock transforms a semiautomatic rifle into a ‘machinegun,’ as defined by §5845(b)” in Title 18 of federal law. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) issued a regulation saying that it does.

“Michael Cargill surrendered two bump stocks to ATF under protest. He then filed suit to challenge the final Rule, asserting a claim under the Administrative Procedure Act,” Thomas explained in the 6-3 decision. “As relevant, Cargill alleged that ATF lacked statutory authority to promulgate the final Rule because bump stocks are not ‘machineguns’ as defined in §5845(b).”

Cargill is being represented by the New Civil Liberties Alliance, a conservative group led by Mark Chenoweth that brings strategic litigation to restore and advance constitutional and statutory rights, especially by reining in illegal federal agency actions.

“As always, we start with the statutory text, which refers to ‘a single function of the trigger,’” the opinion declared.

“On weapons with these standard trigger mechanisms, the phrase ‘function of the trigger’ means the physical trigger movement required to shoot the firearm,” the majority observed. “No one disputes that a semiautomatic rifle without a bump stock is not a machinegun because it fires only one shot per ‘function of the trigger.’”

“ATF does not dispute that this complete process is what constitutes a ‘single function of the trigger.’ A shooter may fire the weapon again after the trigger has reset, but only by engaging the trigger a second time and thereby initiating a new firing cycle,” Thomas continued. “For each shot, the shooter must engage the trigger and then release the trigger to allow it to reset. Any additional shot fired after one cycle is the result of a separate and distinct ‘function of the trigger.’”

“Nothing changes when a semiautomatic rifle is equipped with a bump stock. The firing cycle remains the same,” the court reasoned. “Between every shot, the shooter must release pressure from the trigger and allow it to reset before reengaging the trigger for another shot.”

“A bump stock merely reduces the amount of time that elapses between separate ‘functions’ of the trigger,” the majority noted. “A bump stock does not convert a semiautomatic rifle into a machinegun any more than a shooter with a lightning-fast trigger finger does.”

“So, a bump stock cannot qualify as a machinegun under §5845(b)’s definition,” the court found.

“But, §5845(b) does not define a machinegun based on what type of human input engages the trigger—whether it be a pull, bump, or something else,” Thomas continued. “Nor does it define a machinegun based on whether the shooter has assistance engaging the trigger. The statutory definition instead hinges on how many shots discharge when the shooter engages the trigger.”

The 6-3 majority rejected ATF’s defense of the bump stock ban, saying:

Finally, the position that ATF and the dissent endorse is logically inconsistent. They reason that a semiautomatic rifle equipped with a bump stock fires more than one shot by a single function of the trigger because a shooter need only pull the trigger and maintain forward pressure to activate continuous fire. If that is correct, however, then the same should be true for a semiautomatic rifle without a bump stock. After all, as the dissent and ATF themselves acknowledge, a shooter manually bump firing a semiautomatic rifle can achieve continuous fire by holding his trigger finger stationary and maintaining forward pressure with his nontrigger hand. Yet, they agree that a semiautomatic rifle without a bump stock fires only one shot each time the shooter pulls the trigger. Their argument is thus at odds with itself.

“A bump stock is not a ‘machinegun’ for another reason: Even if a semiautomatic rifle with a bump stock could fire more than one shot ‘by a single function of the trigger,’ it would not do so ‘automatically’” Thomas opined. “The statute thus specifies the precise action that must ‘automatically’ cause a weapon to fire ‘more than one shot’—a ‘single function of the trigger.’”

The court further explained:

In any event, Congress could have linked the definition of “machinegun” to a weapon’s rate of fire, as the dissent would prefer. But, it instead enacted a statute that turns on whether a weapon can fire more than one shot “automatically . . . by a single function of the trigger.” And it is never our job to rewrite statutory text under the banner of speculation about what Congress might have done.

Justice Samuel Alito filed a concurring opinion. Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented, joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson.

This case has implications far beyond just the ATF or firearms, with immediate application to other ways in which federal agencies, especially under Biden, are rewriting old statutes to carry sweeping new effects.

The case is Garland v. Cargill, No. 22-976 in the Supreme Court of the United States.

Breitbart News senior legal contributor Ken Klukowski is a lawyer who served in the White House and Justice Department. Follow him on X (formerly Twitter) @kenklukowski.