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D.C. Download: The Supreme Court overturned bump stock ban. What does it mean for Nevada?

Rep. Dina Titus has led efforts in the House to ban bump stocks, devices that made the 2017 Las Vegas shooting the deadliest in American history.
Gabby Birenbaum
Gabby Birenbaum
CongressD.C. DownloadGovernmentNewsletters

Bump stocks — firearm modification devices that allow semiautomatic rifles to fire faster and were used to devastating effect in the 1 October shooting in Las Vegas — are now legal again after a Friday ruling by the Supreme Court.

I usually do a pithy introduction here, but given the seriousness of the topic, we’ll move right to it.

The News of the Week: Bump stocks

In 2017, a gunman at the Mandalay Bay opened fire at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival.

Sixty people were killed and more than 850 were injured. Still the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, the gunman fired more than 1,000 rounds into the crowd of concertgoers over a span of 10 minutes because he used bump stocks, a device that uses recoil to fire at nearly the rate of an automatic machine gun.

The product allows the gun to “bump” between the shoulder and trigger finger, harnessing the weapon’s kickback to allow for rapid fire without technically converting a weapon into a fully automatic firearm, which is illegal to own or purchase. The shooter had bump stocks on 12 of his weapons, enabling him to fire about 90 shots in 10 seconds at one point.

[For an explanation of how bump stocks work, check out this New York Times explainer from 2018]

In the aftermath of the shooting, the Donald Trump administration issued a rule banning bump stocks under a pre-existing law that prohibits Americans from possessing or transferring machine guns. The Department of Justice under Trump and President Joe Biden have argued that a bump stock illegally transforms a legal weapon into a machine gun.

But in a 6-3 ruling Friday, the Supreme Court overruled the administrative ban, siding with a defendant who turned his bump stocks into the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) after the ban went into effect and then promptly sued. The case was not argued on Second Amendment grounds, but rather on how much deference executive agencies are given to interpret laws passed by Congress.

Writing for the majority — which included all six justices appointed by Republican presidents — Justice Clarence Thomas focused on the mechanics of bump stock usage, saying that each shot requires an individual pull of the trigger, so a bump stock cannot be classified as a machine gun.

“A bump stock does not convert a semiautomatic rifle into a machine gun any more than a shooter with a lightning-fast trigger finger does,” Thomas wrote. “Even with a bump stock, a semiautomatic rifle will fire only one shot for every ‘function of the trigger.’”

The three liberal justices dissented. Writing for the minority, Justice Sonia Sotomayor penned a blistering response, saying that the majority opinion plainly disregarded the congressional definition of a machine gun.

“When I see a bird that walks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duck,” wrote Sotomayor, who took the rare step of reading her dissent from the bench. “A bump-stock-equipped semiautomatic rifle fires 'automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger.' Because I, like Congress, call that a machine gun, I respectfully dissent."

The Nevada Angle

The Nevada Legislature banned possessing, owning, transferring or selling a bump stock in the 2019 legislative session. 

The Supreme Court’s decision makes the federal ban unenforceable, but Nevada’s state-level ban will still remain in place. However, the push for a federal standard derives from the fact that, like in the Las Vegas shooting, gunmen can legally acquire guns and devices in states with less regulation.

To that end, Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) has introduced a bill to ban bump stocks on the federal level in every session of Congress since 2017. The Closing the Bump Stocks Loophole Act, sponsored with Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), is the rare gun control that has some GOP support. When Democrats had a majority in 2021, it passed the House as part of a package with the support of five Republicans; of those, only Fitzpatrick is still in Congress.

In an interview, Titus said she’s kept the heat on Congress to act because she figured the Trump-era rule would be overturned — and suspected his administration pursued executive rulemaking to preempt a permanent solution in Congress.

“When the Trump administration did it by regulation, we said immediately [that] this is just a way to avoid having to pass a law, because they knew it would be challenged in court and likely struck down,” Titus said Friday. “We anticipated it.”

Moving forward, she plans to begin conversations anew with Republicans on her legislation. In speaking with the bill’s original co-sponsors, she feels confident that it would pass on the floor. When brought as its own measure in 2022, 13 Republicans voted for the bump stock ban — the most popular gun control measure in the package among the GOP. Seven of those members are still in Congress.

Titus said she wants to engage some of the more moderate Republicans from districts surrounding New York City that voted for Biden in 2020, who she believes are more receptive to public opinion on gun issues. Polling after the attack in 2017 found 82 percent of Americans supported banning bump stocks.

“I think you're going to see a lot of support for it in the community to inspire some of these people who are in tough races to get on board,” she said. 

The Impact

Gun control is already a big issue for Democrats, and the Supreme Court’s decision appears to have reinvigorated them. Nevada’s elected Democrats universally panned the decision and committed to continuing to fight for gun control measures in Congress.

The Trump campaign, meanwhile, said the decision “should be respected” and promised that Trump would always defend gun rights. His statement had no mention of the fact that it was his administration who created and enforced the bump stock ban.

Titus said this did not surprise her. 

“He changes his mind from one minute to the next,” she said. “He probably didn’t recall that the ATF even made this decision under his administration.”

I reached out to Sam Brown’s team to see what the newly minted Republican Senate nominee made of the ruling, but the campaign did not respond.

Around the Capitol

💊Mifepristone safe (for now) — The Supreme Court on Thursday also ruled against a group of plaintiffs challenging the Food and Drug Administration’s authorization of mifepristone, a pill used to facilitate the majority of abortions.

Nevada’s congressional Democrats breathed a sigh of relief at the ruling, but cautioned that access to mifepristone could still come under threat under a Trump-run Department of Health and Human Services. Such a plan has been proposed in Project 2025, a set of policy proposals for a second Trump administration created by former officials in his orbit.

“The Supreme Court has not fully closed the door on future attempts to further restrict abortion access across our nation,” said Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), who is making abortion a pillar of her campaign.

🎖️Defensive stance The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) — the bill that governs military spending — passed the House 217-199 Friday. Six Democrats voted for it and three Republicans voted against it, but for the most part, it was a party-line bill.

Long a bastion of congressional bipartisanship, the NDAA has gone the way of most things in Congress recently, becoming a battlefield for culture wars via policy riders. 

The House version would end the Biden administration’s military abortion policy, which reimburses service members who travel to receive abortion care if they are stationed in a state that does not provide access to abortion. In addition, it included policy riders attacking diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and LGBTQ+ health care at the Department of Defense.

Most of those provisions will likely be stripped out in the Senate version. Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV) voted for the bill, while Reps. Dina Titus (D-NV) and Steven Horsford (D-NV) opposed it. Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV) missed the vote for a family obligation but said she would have voted “no.”

What I’m Reading

The Wall Street Journal: Trump floats tax-free tips for workers. That could mean more tipping for customers.

An analysis of the big Trump tip policy trial balloon.

The Nevada Independent: Brown wins primary to face Rosen; Lombardo-backed composer loses race to challenge Lee

Bring on the general.

The Washington Post: In Nevada Senate race, Democrats turn to a battle-tested abortion message

Kudos to WaPo for getting “Battle” language (and not a gambling pun) into the headline.

Notable and Quotable

“This case was bullshit from the very beginning.”

— Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), on the Supreme Court unanimously deciding against a challenge to the authorization of abortion pill mifepristone

Vote of the Week

S.4445 — On cloture on the motion to proceed: A bill to protect and expand nationwide access to fertility treatment, including in vitro fertilization.

Like last week’s bill on contraception, this week’s effort to codify the right to in vitro fertilization treatment was rejected by all but two Republicans in the Senate.




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