Sotomayor rips Thomas’s bump stocks ruling in scathing dissent read from bench

Sotomayor rips Thomas’s bump stocks ruling in scathing dissent read from bench

Justice Sonia Sotomayor in a fiery dissent harshly denounced a Supreme Court ruling Friday that rejected a ban on bump stocks, saying it “eviscerates” the congressional regulation of machine guns.

“Today, the Court puts bump stocks back in civilian hands,” Sotomayor wrote in a dissent joined by fellow liberal Justices Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson. “To do so, it casts aside Congress’s definition of ‘machinegun’ and seizes upon one that is inconsistent with the ordinary meaning of the statutory text and unsupported by context or purpose.”

The court ruled 6-3 against the Biden administration along ideological lines, finding that bans imposed by the Trump and Biden administrations — enacted by classifying bump stocks as machine guns — went too far.

“We conclude that [a] semiautomatic rifle equipped with a bump stock is not a ‘machinegun’ because it does not fire more than one shot ‘by a single function of the trigger,’” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the decision.

Sotomayor rejected that reasoning.

“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,” she continued.

Sotomayor read her dissent from the bench, a rare move underlining her disagreement. It was the first time she read a dissent this term.

“This is not a hard case. All of the textual evidence points to the same interpretation,” she added, deriding the majority’s interpretation for ignoring common sense and instead relying on obscure technical arguments.

“Its interpretation requires six diagrams and an animation to decipher the meaning of the statutory text,” she wrote.

Sotomayor said the decision “enables gun users and manufacturers to circumvent federal law.”

The federal bump stock ban was first established by the Trump administration in 2017 after a gunman used the device in a Las Vegas mass shooting that killed 58 people and wounded hundreds of others. The Biden administration supported and defended the ban in court.

Michael Cargill, a Texas-based gun store owner, challenged the bump stock ban after surrendering two in 2019. He was backed by the National Rifle Association and other major gun advocacy groups.

The case did not implement the Second Amendment but instead asked whether the Trump administration, through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, stretched the statutory definition of machine guns too far to cover bump stocks.

In the coming days, the Supreme Court is set to hand down another closely watched gun case that does implicate the Second Amendment. The justices are weighing whether a federal statute criminalizing gun possession for people under domestic-violence restraining orders is constitutional.

Zach Schonfeld contributed.

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