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The conservative judges who now occupy large swaths of the federal judiciary are pro-gun extremists. They’re so deep in the thrall of the gun lobby that their anti-regulatory opinions are now incompatible with mainstream American views on gun safety. Conservative judges have even lurched to the right of the Republican presidents who appoint them. The proof of that came this week when the hyper-conservative US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit threw out a Trump-era gun safety rule. The culture of violence embraced by these Federalist Society–approved judges is a greater threat to peace and personal safety than all the violent video games and Hollywood movies could ever be.

The rule the Fifth Circuit overturned, the one that was so offensive to their legal sensibilities that they threw it away, banned “bump stocks.” A bump stock is a physical attachment that can be affixed to the back of a rifle, the part that hits a shooter’s shoulder. It uses the rifle’s own kinetic recoil to make a shooter’s trigger finger move back and forth. It effectively turns a semiautomatic rifle (one where the shooter has to pull the trigger once per bullet fired) into a machine gun (one where the shooter pulls once and the bullets keep firing).

In 2017, a single 64-year-old gunman murdered 60 people and wounded over 400 firing over 1,000 bullets in about 10 minutes at a Las Vegas music festival. The carnage was made possible by a bump stock.The Las Vegas shooter was able to fire around nine bullets a second during his killing spree—slower than a military-grade machine gun, but fast enough to cause mass death.

In response, even Trump, a president who couldn’t be more beloved by violent gun owners if he went skeet shooting on Fifth Avenue, agreed that bump stocks should be outlawed. He ordered the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), which works under the Department of Justice, to institute a rule “banning all devices that turn legal weapons into machineguns.” There was no political downside to this executive action: 82 percent of Americans think that bump stocks should be banned.

It was also simple to do, made possible by a small legal change. Federal law already bans the possession of machine guns. Indeed, the first meaningful federal gun regulation, the National Firearms Act of 1934, was known as the “Anti-Machine Gun Bill.” In 2019, Trump’s ATF updated its rules to classify extensions that make semiautomatic rifles perform like machine guns as “machineguns.” In any civilized society, that would have been the end of it.

But then the lawsuits started. Gun nuts argued that bump stocks do not fall within the statutory definition of “machinegun” and claimed that the ATF could therefore not tread on their sacred constitutional rights to mow down an amphibious force trying to secure a beachhead, or a deer, or whatever these ammosexuals feel the need to murder next. For the most part, liberal judges and the courts they control (like the Sixth Circuit and the D.C. Circuit) have rejected these arguments; conservative judges, however, have accepted them. In the case of the conservative Fifth Circuit, it ruled that since bump stocks merely make the trigger finger move back and forth rapidly, they don’t turn the gun into a machine gun. Technically, the rifle still functions as a one-bullet-per-pull weapon, even though the bump stock has the practical effect of requiring the shooter to pull the trigger only once to achieve a continuous fire of bullets.




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