PBS News Hour | Supreme Court majority rejects ban on shares | Season 2024

GEOFF BENNETT: Another big day for the U.S. Supreme Court, as the justices made a decision with major implications for firearms regulations.

In a 6-3 ruling, the conservative majority ruled that the government exceeded its authority when it imposed a ban on bump stocks in 2018.

That’s a weapon accessory used in the deadliest mass shooting in American history.

AMNA NAWAZ: A bump stock is used at the rear of a semi-automatic rifle.

This allows the user to continuously re-engage the trigger, dramatically increasing the rate of fire, much like that of an automatic weapon.

Marcia Coyle, our Supreme Court analyst, has been following this case closely and joins me now.

Marcia, it’s always nice to talk to you.

So this federal ban on bump stocks was passed by then-President Trump in 2018, and it was in response to the shooting of outdoor music concerts in Las Vegas in 2017; 58 people were killed.

A bump stock was used.

But remind us: How did this issue end up before the Supreme Court in the first place?

MARCIA COYLE, “The National Law Journal”: Like so much business, Amna.

Michael Cargill, a gun store owner in Austin, Texas, has filed a lawsuit challenging the Bureau of ATF’s rule banning bump stocks.

He won before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

It was the Biden administration that brought the case, the appeal, to the Supreme Court.

AMNA NAWAZ: And Marcia, this wasn’t about the Second Amendment.

This was about regulations and how the court views this.

Alito wrote the following in his concurring opinion: “There can be little doubt that the Congress which passed this law would not have recognized any material difference between a machine gun and a semiautomatic rifle equipped with a bump stock.”

But the text of the law is clear and we must follow it.”

In her dissent, Justice Sotomayor said the following: β€œThe court returns the bump stocks into the hands of citizens.

To do so, it overrides Congress’s definition of machine gun and seizes on a definition that is inconsistent with the plain meaning of the bill.

If I see a bird that walks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duck.”

Marcia, what does this tell us about how the judges felt about this issue?

MARCIA COYLE: Well, first of all, this was very much a case of interpretation of the law, looking at the language of the law.

And it tells us almost immediately at the vote that the justices looked at the language and saw it very differently on the left and the right.

Justice Kagan said at one point during arguments that, yes, textualism, sticking to the text is fine, but not contrary to common sense.

Thus, she believed that the court should not take a broad view in terms of what the statute was intended to do.

But you can actually look at it two ways, Amna.

It is in line with conservative statements in recent years that lifted gun restrictions.

And it also echoes concerns among conservative justices that federal agencies have been given too much power and overreach.

AMNA NAWAZ: It has been reported that there were around 520,000 bump stocks in circulation when the Ministry of Justice changed its classification, effectively removing it from the market.

And we asked Chip Brownlee, a reporter at an organization called The Trace that covers gun violence, about the potential impact of this decision.

Here’s what he had to say.

CHIP BROWNLEE, The Trace: We saw these devices used in the deadliest mass shootings in American history.

And so I think if you have someone who’s planning to commit a crime like that and gets their hands on one of these devices, he or she can essentially take their weapon from a weapon that fires 60, 70, 80 rounds per minute to a weapon that shoots 500, 600, 700 rounds per minute.

AMNA NAWAZ: Marcia, did that potential impact come up in the judges’ questions or in their discussion?

MARCIA COYLE: Certainly, during the oral arguments, the judges, I think, were very aware of the impact of bump stocks and what they can do.

But again, they were focused on the text, the language of the Bureau of ATF’s rule and whether it included bump stocks as machine guns.

AMNA NAWAZ: We also know that there are a number of federal cases related to firearms possession that are pending before the Supreme Court or are currently moving through the appellate courts.

One of the biggest is the United States against Rahimi.

What is at stake there?

MARCIA COYLE: That’s the federal ban on gun ownership by anyone under a domestic violence protection order.

It’s going to be a fascinating thing.

It’s a Second Amendment issue.

Lower federal courts, using Judge Clarence Thomas’s new test for the Second Amendment, said there was no historical analogy or anything else in history that made such a ban possible.

So that could be decided next week, anytime before the end of the term.

AMNA NAWAZ: Marcia, we know that there are some important issues in other cases that are still before the court.

What other types of issues and statements might we encounter using this term?

MARCIA COYLE: One of the most closely watched cases is obviously Donald Trump’s claim of absolute immunity from criminal prosecution.

In addition, there are two major social media cases involving the First Amendment.

There are also several major cases involving federal regulators and their power, their authority.

The court is currently a bit behind.

It normally aims to complete the term by the end of June, but much remains to be decided.

AMNA NAWAZ: That’s our Supreme Court analyst Marcia Coyle joining us tonight.

Marcia, always nice to see you.

Thank you.

MARCIA COYLE: You’re welcome.