Rule of Law

RELEASE: Supreme Court’s Cargill Decision Rejects the Clear Text and History of the National Firearms Act

WASHINGTON, DC – Following today’s decision at the Supreme Court in Garland v. Cargill, a case in which the Court was considering whether bump stocks were correctly classified as “machineguns” under the National Firearms Act, Constitutional Accountability Center Counsel Nina Henry issued the following reaction:

In 1934, after a string of high-profile shootings, Congress passed the National Firearms Act (NFA) to address the proliferation of machine guns that enabled mass killings with a single pull of a trigger. Today, in legalizing bump stocks that convert semiautomatic rifles into machine guns, the Court rejected Congress’s definition of the term “machine gun,” adopting instead one that is at odds with the text and history of the NFA.

When Congress passed the NFA in 1934, its plan was to stop the mass carnage made possible by guns that could shoot continuously once set into motion by the shooter’s initial action. And that concern is, if anything, even greater today than it was then. Fortunately, to accomplish that goal, Congress used broad language to define the term “machine gun,” and it has only broadened it further in subsequent amendments to the law.

That language plainly encompasses bump stocks, as Justice Sotomayor’s dissent makes clear. Justice Sotomayor’s dissent, echoing points we made in our brief, showed how the Court ignored both historical dictionary definitions and evidence of contemporaneous usage in reaching its result. As she explained, “The majority’s reading flies in the face of this Court’s standard tools of statutory interpretation. By casting aside the statute’s ordinary meaning both at the time of its enactment and today, the majority eviscerates Congress’s regulation of machineguns and enables gun users and manufacturers to circumvent federal law.”

In 1934 and 1968, Congress sought to end exactly the kind of dangerous circumvention of the machine gun ban that bump stock manufacturers exploit today. Today’s decision is a blatant rejection of the text and history of the National Firearms Act, and the American people will be less safe as a result.



Case page in Garland v. Cargill:


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