Attorney General Schwalb Leads Coalition Urging Supreme Court To Uphold Ban on Bump Stocks

23 AGs Argue that Overturning Bump Stock Rule Would Undermine Nearly Century-Long Effort to Protect Americans from Dangerous Automatic Weapons 

WASHINGTON, DC – Attorney General Brian L. Schwalb led a group of 23 state attorneys general urging the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold a federal rule banning bump stocks, devices that effectively convert semiautomatic firearms into illegal automatic weapons. In an amicus brief filed in Garland v. Cargill, the coalition urges the Supreme Court to overturn an appellate court’s decision striking down a 2018 regulation that clarified that the federal law banning machine guns also bans bump stock-type devices. The attorneys general assert that the rule aligns with longstanding policies prohibiting automatic weapons and argue that overturning it would pose a threat to public safety and the safety of law enforcement officers. 

“Bump stocks were deliberately developed and marketed to circumvent federal law banning civilian use of automatic weapons,” said Attorney General Schwalb. “These devices are designed to convert semiautomatic firearms to illegal machine guns, with foreseeable tragic and deadly consequences. We urge the Supreme Court to prioritize public safety and the safety of law enforcement officers by upholding a reasonable, well-established rule classifying bump stocks as banned automatic weapons.” 

Federal law has strictly regulated fully automatic, military-grade weapons since 1934 and has banned civilian ownership of new automatic weapons since 1986. Bump stocks—devices that allow a user to fire multiple rounds in seconds with just one pull of a trigger—were created to evade federal regulations and are marketed as workarounds to the ban on automatic weapons. In 2017, the dangers of bump stocks became tragically clear when a man using weapons fitted with bump stocks murdered 58 people in Las Vegas. In response to that massacre, the Trump administration issued a regulation clarifying that a 1986 law making it a crime to own a machine gun also applies to bump stocks.   

The 2018 regulation banning bump stocks has faced multiple court challenges, with three federal circuit courts of appeal upholding its validity. In a challenge before the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, a three-judge panel also initially upheld the rule. However, the en banc (full) court reversed its decision, ruling that the law banning machine guns did not unambiguously encompass bump stocks and therefore, could not be applied against bump stock owners. That case, Garland v. Cargill, is now before the Supreme Court.   

AG Schwalb and the coalition are urging the Supreme Court to uphold the 2018 rule, asserting that the federal law banning automatic weapons clearly includes bump stocks. They argue that overturning the rule would undermine the US’s nearly century-long effort to restrict civilian use of machine guns and would endanger both the public and law enforcement officers. Additionally, the state AGs highlight that at least eighteen jurisdictions have banned or regulated bump stocks, emphasizing that the 2018 rule is critical to fill gaps in state-by-state regulation of these extremely dangerous devices. 

A copy of the brief is available here.   

AG Schwalb is joined in filing this brief by the attorneys general of Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawai‘i, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.   

Caroline S. Van Zile, Ashwin P. Phatak, and Russell C. Bogue handled this matter for the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia. 

OAG’s Work to Stop Gun Violence 
This U.S. Supreme Court amicus brief is just the most recent effort by OAG to address the scourge of gun violence. Among other things, the office prioritizes firearms prosecutions, prosecuting juvenile crimes involving guns and adult misdemeanor firearms offenses in every case in which it has sufficient evidence to do so. OAG also defends the District’s common-sense gun laws against legal challenges and has defended prohibitions on carrying firearms on public transportation and on large-capacity magazines. Additionally, OAG filed and won a first-of-its-kind lawsuit against ghost gun manufacturer Polymer80, which was selling kits that enabled individuals to build untraceable ghost guns in their homes. As a result, Polymer80 was ordered to pay more than $4 million in penalties and to permanently stop selling its frames, receivers, and Buy, Build, Shoot kits to DC consumers. OAG also funds and supports Cure the Streets, a community-based, violence-reduction program that employs a public-health approach to disrupt cycles of violence. In 2023, the program worked to reduce gun violence in ten DC neighborhoods that have historically seen high rates of gun violence.