Supreme Court justices display stunning ignorance about firearms, bump stocks — and they’re quickly fact-checked

Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown Jackson demonstrated their incredible misunderstanding of bump stocks this week.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Garland v. Cargill. At issue is whether a bump stock device is a “machine gun” as defined in federal law.

The issue came to the Supreme Court after Michael Cargill, the owner of a Texas gun store, sued the federal government over an ATF ruling that bump stock devices are a “machine gun” and thus illegal to own.


At oral arguments, Justices Kagan and Jackson repeated claims that bump stocks modify firearms to fire hundreds of bullets per second.

Jackson claimed the “function” of a bump stock-modified rifle is to fire “800 rounds a second,” later asserting the device “automatically allows for 800 rounds to be released.” Sotomayor, meanwhile, posited that bump stocks allow a rifle “to shoot 400 to 700 or 800 rounds of ammunition.”

But their claims are false.

First, a bump stock does allow for a firearm to discharge ammunition more rapidly — but not in the same way as a traditional “machine gun.”

Fully automatic firearms, on one hand, fire all of their available ammunition with one pull of the trigger. Semi-automatic firearms, on the other hand, fire only one round each time the trigger is pulled.


Second, it’s not true that a bump stock-modified firearm can fire hundreds of bullets per second, though they can fire hundreds of rounds per minute. The fastest-firing gun in use by the U.S. military can only fire up to around 100 rounds per second.

Johnathan Mitchell, lawyer for Cargill, quickly corrected the justices.

In response to Sotomayor’s claim, Mitchell said, “They don’t shoot 400 to 700 rounds because the magazine only goes up to 50. So you’re still going to have to change the magazine after every round. We allow large-capacity magazines up to 50.”

And in response to Jackson’s assertions, Mitchell explained, “It’s factually incorrect to say that a function to the trigger automatically starts some chain reaction that propels multiple bullets from the gun. A function of the trigger fires one shot, then the shooter must take additional manual action.”

A decision in the case is expected to be handed down by June.

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