Supreme Court
Justice Thomas' Opinion On Firearm 'Bump Stocks' Is A Stinking Lie

Yesterday’s Supreme Court decision on bump stocks wasn’t about bump stocks or the guns to which they are attached. It was about the conservative majority’s all-out attack on the power of the government’s executive department to issue regulations and be able to enforce them.

The regulation that made bump stocks illegal was issued by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). The regulation was based on the National Firearms Act of 1934, which made it illegal for civilians to own machine guns without qualifying and paying for a special license, and the Gun Control Act of 1968, which expanded the 1934 law to make it illegal to manufacture or own parts that can be used to convert a firearm to fire automatically.

The 1934 law defined machine guns as “any weapon which shoots, is designed to shoot, or can be readily restored to shoot, automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger.” The ATF defined a bump stock as a part that, when added to an AR-15 style semiautomatic rifle, converts the weapon to an illegal machine gun.

Bump stocks were used by the Mandalay Bay shooter who killed 60 people and wounded 413 at a music festival in Las Vegas in 2017. He fixed multiple semi-automatic AR-15 rifles with bump stocks and fired from his hotel room down on the crowd gathered to listen to music in an empty lot across from his hotel. In videos of the massacre, firing by an automatic weapon can be heard in the background as people attempt to flee.

Responding to the mass killing of so many people in such a short period of time by one man with a gun, the Trump administration ATF made bump stocks illegal. The owner of a gun store in Austin, Texas, filed a lawsuit claiming that the ATF had exceeded its authority by classifying bump stocks as a part that converted a weapon to fire automatically, thus making bump stocks illegal.

Justice Clarence Thomas, and the five other conservative justices who are bound and determined to defenestrate what the right-wing calls “the administrative state,” had to find a way to rule that the ATF had overreached in its 2017 regulation. Thomas did this by telling an outrageous lie about how bump stocks work: “A bump stock does not convert a semiautomatic rifle into a machinegun any more than a shooter with a lightning-fast trigger finger does,” Thomas wrote for the majority. “Even with a bump stock, a semiautomatic rifle will fire only one shot for every ‘function of the trigger.’ With or without a bump stock, a shooter must release and reset the trigger between every shot.”

This is a baldfaced lie. When a shooter fires a semiautomatic AR-15 style rifle, he pulls the trigger, discharging a round through the barrel. As the bullet passes a tiny hole in the barrel, gas from the gunpowder explosion expands through the hole, actuating the rifle’s receiver, sending it backward, ejecting the spent round and reloading another. The shooter then must pull the trigger again to make the weapon repeat the same action. A semiautomatic AR-15 can thus fire only as fast as a shooter can pull the trigger.

A bump stock works by replacing the normal stock on an AR-15 with a sliding stock that uses the recoil of the rifle to repeatedly and rapidly cock and fire the weapon with only a single pull of the trigger. The shooter pulls the trigger once, and leaving his finger on the trigger, the bump stock takes over and does the rest, cocking and firing the weapon in rapid succession as if it were a machine gun. Here is a short video showing a bump stock in action that explains how it works.

The shooter in the video positions the bump stock tightly against his shoulder and pulls the trigger once, unleashing the automatic firing of a fusillade of bullets. For Thomas to write that even when using a bump stock, the “shooter must release and reset the trigger between every shot” is clearly shown to be a lie by the video.

In recent decisions like Dobbs and the Thomas-authored decision that overturned New York’s handgun law, this Supreme Court has reached back into the nation’s past to come up with “history” and “tradition” they could distort and lie about for their own purposes. This time, Thomas didn’t have to tell his clerks to pull out the history books so he could misrepresent their contents. All Thomas had to do was tell a blatant and foul lie about how the bump stock works, a lie so shameless that it can be disproven by a gun nut with a cell phone camera and a bump stock equipped AR-15.

Common sense and evidence on this Supreme Court have been supplanted by money and ideology. In the decision by Justice Thomas, he may as well have sat there wearing his black judicial robes and announced, “Look at my beautiful white robes. Keep looking. If you look long enough, you’ll see my white robes, or maybe not. I don’t care either way.”

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

Start your day with National Memo Newsletter

Know first.

The opinions that matter. Delivered to your inbox every morning