Reviews | The Supreme Court overturned a ban on replacement stocks. Congress can bring it back.

It's been almost seven years since a gunman began shooting from his Las Vegas hotel window, spreading fear and chaos among crowds of country music concert-goers. In about ten minutes, the gunman fired more than 1,000 shots, leaving 58 people dead and more than 500 injured, most of them by gunfire. In a country where mass shootings have become incredibly common, this October 1, 2017 massacre remains the deadliest such massacre in U.S. history. And this was made possible by the author's use of a “bump stock” to accelerate the rate of fire of his AR-15; the device effectively converted this legal semi-automatic weapon into the functional equivalent of an automatic weapon.

This rapid killing was so devastating and outrageous that political leaders across the ideological spectrum called for a ban on wholesale stocks. Polls in 2018 showed that a large majority of the public supported such a measure. Even then-President Donald Trump, a Republican devoted to a maximalist vision of gun rights, agreed. At the end of 2018, the Trump administration promulgated a regulation reclassifying stocks as machine guns, illegal since 1934.

The Supreme Court has now overturned this regulation, in a 6-3 decision. The majority opinion, written by Justice Clarence Thomas and joined only by his fellow Republican-appointed justices, is a tour de force of haircuts statutory, which concludes that the bump stock does not, strictly speaking, allow several shots to be fired with a simple press of the trigger. Therefore, Justice Thomas wrote, the device does not fall within the definition of a machine gun established by Congress when it banned civilian possession of such weapons 90 years ago, and the executive branch does not has no power to prohibit it by regulation. All that remains of the old movement against bump stocks are laws banning them in 15 states and Washington.

The Thomas opinion looks like the ultimate triumph of form over substance, as Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a dissenting opinion co-signed by two colleagues appointed by Democratic presidents. The court could just as easily have determined that percussion stocks fit the definition of a machine gun because they allow the shooter of a semi-automatic weapon to pull the trigger once and then, as she said, to “fire continuous shots without any human intervention other than holding the weapon”. forward pressure. She added, rightly we fear: “Today's decision to reject this ordinary agreement will have deadly consequences. »

The only problem is that Judge Thomas was correct in pointing out that the 2018 rule, issued by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, does not represent that agency's consistent view. In fact, this represented a 180-degree reversal from the ATF's position on wholesale stocks before the Las Vegas massacre, which was more or less the same as that expressed by Justice Thomas in his opinion. This story shows what can go wrong when such clearly legislative issues are left to the bureaucracy and the courts. It would be far better for Congress to provide new guidance, rather than relying on regulators and judges to analyze 90-year-old statutory text.

Simply put, the surest way to implement a big-stock ban, which so many Americans clearly want and which is so clearly consistent with common sense, is through legislation. If there is a silver lining to Friday's decision, perhaps it is that it struck down the regulation on purely statutory grounds, not as a violation of the Constitution's Second Amendment. That leaves the door open for legislation, as Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. reminded everyone; his brief concurring opinion implied that there was no Second Amendment obstacle to banning machine guns and suggested that “the horrific shooting in Las Vegas…strengthened the case for changing” the law federal.

Lawmakers in the House and Senate have proposed several bills, on a bipartisan basis, but none have come close to success. The Supreme Court’s decision should breathe new life into these dormant efforts, as a matter of urgency. Banning wholesale stocks wouldn't be a bad issue for presidential and congressional candidates in this year's elections. President Biden almost immediately called for legislation. Mr. Trump's campaign, by contrast, seemed much more equivocal. He calls for his own administration's decision against regulation to be “respected,” while noting the ex-president's support for the “right to keep and bear arms.”

What an opportunity for Mr. Trump to abandon his usual contempt for courts that rule against him. The only thing consistent about this man is his inconsistency.

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