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Supreme Court strikes down ban on rapid-fire rifle bump stocks

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Friday struck down a Trump-era ban on bump stocks, the rapid-fire gun accessories used in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, in a ruling that threw firearms back into the nation’s political spotlight.

The high court’s conservative majority found that the Trump administration overstepped when it changed course from predecessors and banned bump stocks, which allow a rate of fire comparable to machine guns. The decision came after a gunman in Las Vegas attacked a country music festival with assault rifles equipped with the accessories.

The gunman fired more than 1,000 rounds into the crowd in 11 minutes, sending thousands of people fleeing in terror as hundreds were wounded and dozens killed.

The ruling thrust guns back into the center of the political conversation with an unusual twist as Democrats decried the reversal of a GOP administration’s action and many Republicans backed the ruling.

The 6-3 majority opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas found the Justice Department was wrong to declare that bump stocks transformed semiautomatic rifles into illegal machine guns because, he wrote, each trigger depression in rapid succession still only releases one shot.

The ruling reinforced the limits of executive reach and two justices — conservative Samuel Alito and liberal Sonia Sotomayor — separately highlighted how action in Congress could potentially provide a more lasting policy, if there was political will to act in a bipartisan fashion.

Originally, imposing a ban through regulation rather than legislation during Donald Trump’s presidency took pressure off Republicans to act following the massacre and another mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida. Prospects for passing gun restrictions in the current divided Congress are dim.

President Joe Biden, who supports gun restrictions, called on Congress to reinstate the ban imposed under his political foe. Trump’s campaign team meanwhile, expressed respect for the ruling before quickly pivoting to his endorsement by the National Rifle Association.

As Trump courts gun owners while running to retake the presidency, he has appeared to play down his own administration’s actions on bump stocks, telling NRA members in February that “nothing happened” on guns during his presidency despite “great pressure.” He told the group that if he is elected again, “No one will lay a finger on your firearms.”

The 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas was carried out by a high-stakes gambler who killed himself, leaving his exact motive a mystery. A total of 60 people were killed in the shooting, including Christiana Duarte, whose family called Friday’s ruling tragic.

“The ruling is really just another way of inviting people to have another mass shooting,” said Danette Meyers, a family friend and spokesperson. “It’s unfortunate that they have to relive this again. They’re really unhappy.”

The opinion comes after the same Supreme Court conservative supermajority handed down a landmark decision expanding gun rights in 2022. The high court is also expected to rule in another gun case in the coming weeks, challenging a federal law intended to keep guns away from people under domestic violence restraining orders.

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