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How California is affected by Supreme Court’s rejection of federal bump stock ban

Autor: Bob Egelko
The Supreme Court has struck down a President Trump-era ban on bump stocks, a gun accessory that allows semiautomatic weapons to fire rapidly like machine guns. 

The Supreme Court has struck down a President Trump-era ban on bump stocks, a gun accessory that allows semiautomatic weapons to fire rapidly like machine guns. 

Steve Helber/Associated Press

Despite Friday’s Supreme Court ruling overturning federal regulations barring bump stocks, the attachments that convert semiautomatic rifles into rapid-fire weapons, bump stocks remain prohibited by laws in about one-third of U.S. states, including California.

California’s law, like most of those in 16 other states and the District of Columbia, was passed in response to the October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, where a gunman fired 1,000 rounds in 11 minutes at a crowd attending a music festival, killing 60 people and wounding about 500. He then took his own life.

California had actually sought to ban the devices since 1990, when it prohibited “multiburst trigger activators.” But after questions were raised about the scope of that ban, lawmakers approved an explicit ban on bump stocks, Senate Bill 1346 by state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, and it was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2018. 

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The state laws were not affected by Friday’s ruling, in which a 6-3 majority led by Justice Clarence Thomas said bump stocks, which repeatedly bump a gun’s trigger against the shooter’s finger, do not convert the rifles into machine guns, which are banned by federal law.

Dissenters led by Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the devices enable repeat firing with a single contact with the trigger, similar to machine guns. The ruling overturned a nationwide ban on bump stocks ordered by President Donald Trump’s administration after the Las Vegas shootings and continued by President Joe Biden’s administration.

The ruling came a day after a federal judge in Texas blocked another federal rule that required owners of “pistol braces,” which allow holders of short-barreled guns to carry them on their shoulders, to register the weapons as rifles. U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor said the Biden administration had failed to justify changing a decade-old federal policy classifying the weapons as pistols. 

California Attorney General Rob Bonta said Friday’s Supreme Court decision shows the need for a federal law extending the ban on machine guns to apply to bump stocks. A federal ban would presumably make it more difficult for owners of the devices in states such as Arizona and Oregon, where they are legal, to bring them into California.

“Bump stocks make semiautomatic weapons as dangerous as the fully automatic weapons that cause mass casualties, put our communities in danger and have lethal consequences,” Bonta said in a statement. “Federal laws that apply on a nationwide basis serve as an important complement to state firearms laws that protect our residents and communities from gun violence.”

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The U.S. Supreme Court released a 6-3 decision striking down a federal ban on bump stocks instituted by former President Donald Trump after the 2017 mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas.

The U.S. Supreme Court released a 6-3 decision striking down a federal ban on bump stocks instituted by former President Donald Trump after the 2017 mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas.

Anna Moneymaker/TNS

There was a similar recommendation from an unlikely source, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. He endorsed Thomas’ decision that the national ban on bump stocks was not authorized by current federal law, but said in a separate opinion that there is “a simple remedy. … Congress can amend the law.”

That was an indication that “bump stock laws do not violate the Second Amendment,” which protects the right to bear arms, said David Pucino, legal director of the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a gun-control group based in San Francisco.

But firearms advocates contend a ban on bump stocks would be unconstitutional, and promised to continue their challenges to the state laws and any future federal restrictions.

“The president cannot change the law to fit his policy preferences and the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) cannot be turned into his personal gestapo,” Brandon Combs, president of the Firearms Policy Coalition, said in a statement praising Friday’s ruling.

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“We fought President Trump’s lawless and unconstitutional actions from day one,” said Combs, whose group filed the initial challenge to the regulations in December 2018. “And the Supreme Court’s decision today proves we were right all along.”

Reach Bob Egelko: begelko@sfchronicle.com; Twitter: @BobEgelko

Photo of Bob Egelko

Bob Egelko has been a reporter since June 1970. He spent 30 years with the Associated Press, covering news, politics and occasionally sports in Los Angeles, San Diego and Sacramento, and legal affairs in San Francisco from 1984 onward. He worked for the San Francisco Examiner for five months in 2000, then joined The Chronicle in November 2000.

His beat includes state and federal courts in California, the Supreme Court and the State Bar. He has a law degree from McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento and is a member of the bar. Coverage has included the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978, the appointment of Rose Bird to the state Supreme Court and her removal by the voters, the death penalty in California and the battles over gay rights and same-sex marriage.

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