Garland, Att’y Gen. v. Cargill Oral Arguments

February 28, 2024

Garland, Att’y Gen. v. Cargill Oral Arguments

On February 28, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Garland, Att’y Gen. v. Cargill. The Court considered whether bump stocks fell within the statutory definition of a machine gun, a weapon firing “automatically more than one shot … by a single function of the trigger.” 26 U.S.C. § 5845(b). The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) classified bump stocks as such after the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, when Stephen Paddock used over ten AR-15s equipped with the devices to kill 60 people. 

Arguments were extremely technical, primarily focusing on two points. First, because a human operator is required to force a rifle forward with the non-shooting hand, is the operation of a bump stock automatic? Second, is there only a single function of the trigger, because the gun continues to fire by the effects of recoil with a bump stock? Counsel for Mr. Cargill, a gun owner forced to turn his bump-stocks over to the ATF, struggled to explain what differentiated a bump stock from machine guns. At one point, Chief Justice Roberts stated he was somewhat confused by counsel’s arguments. Counsel for the Government, meanwhile, was pressed by the justices about what to do with the plain language of the statute, which does not mention bump stocks, having been passed before their invention.  

The court may be starkly divided in its ruling, and no matter which side the majority agrees with, the decision is likely to be controversial. 





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