Saturday, June 15, 2024

Irrational American Gun Landscape Gets Worse….

Red state, blue state

The Supreme Court voted 6-3 to lift the ban on bump stocks yesterday (on June 14, 2024). The bump stock is a device that allows a shooter to depress the trigger of a semiautomatic rifle once.  After the initial firing the recoil energy of the firearm is used to bring the trigger back against the trigger finger for repeated firing without a subsequent trigger pull.  The result is a very high rate of fire with various quotes of 800 rounds per minute.  The limiting factor is rounds in the magazine and a standard magazine is 30 rounds with some states having lower limits or no limits.  

The majority decision was done by the Republican appointed justices (Roberts, Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett), who used a series of rationalizations to show that in their opinion the bump stock does not convert a semiautomatic weapon to a machine gun as defined by the National Firearms Act of 1934.  Note that the majority opinion uses graphics (Figures 1-6) from the Firearms Policy Foundation - an organization that fights gun control laws (see reference 2 and their web site).  The dissenting opinion by Justice Sotomayor in the final few pages points out the inconsistencies in the majority opinion.  

Both court opinions include the precipitant for the bump stock ban – a 2017 Las Vegas shooting where the perpetrator was able to fire over 1,058 rounds from a hotel room into a crowd at a music festival killing 60 people and wounding 413.  An additional 454 people were injured in the ensuing panic. The gunfire occurred from 10:05 to 10:15 PM.  It is the deadliest mass shooting in the country that holds the record for mass shootings.  From the perspective of bump stocks, the Las Vegas shooter used 14 AR-15 (.223 cal) semiautomatic rifles and 8 AR-10 (.308 cal) semiautomatic rifles.  All of the AR-15s were fitted with bump stocks and 100 round magazines.  None of the AR-10s were fitted with bump stocks and 5 of 8 had 25 round magazines.  The remaining three AR-10s had no magazines. The AR-15s had a potential capacity of  1400 rounds that could have been discharged with a bump stock. The relevant factors from this list is that magazine capacity rather than firing rate is the major limiting factor in the total number of rounds that can be discharged and the shooter overcame that limitation by using more firearms with bump stocks. Only 15 states ban or restrict large capacity magazines.

There are various opinions in the media about how a bump stock ban originated in the Trump administration. The politics is interesting because the precipitating event was so egregious that the National Rifle Association supported restrictions on bump stocks.  I can find no action by the Trump administration other than encouraging the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) to consider rule changes and in fact this report suggests there was a memo circulated with the usual “guns don’t kill people” message.  The Supreme Court refers to the ATF rule changes but also makes one reference to Trump.  Unless I missed something it seems clear that he did very little on the issue.

At the end of the day – we have a typical party line vote supporting gun extremism.  I don’t care who you are – the only reason you need a bump stock is to kill large numbers of people.  A bump stock is not useful for hunting or target shooting.  It converts a weapon that is already a military weapon (semi-automatic rifle) to what is essentially a fully automatic rifle. Justice Sotomayor’s opinion also includes the original reason for the machine gun ban and that was to keep these weapons out of the hands of gangsters.  Two of the typical gun extremist arguments against even minimal forms of gun control are:  “We already have enough gun laws on the books and they are not enforced” and “If we have more gun control laws only the criminals will have guns.”  They make these arguments while continuing to deregulate guns, make gun regulations harder to enforce, and make guns even more widely accessible either by Republican legislators or judges.

A second development on firearms was a recently released report by the CDC on the accessibility of firearms by children.  This is a timely study because of the April 2024 Michigan court case against a couple whose son shot and killed 4 students at his high school.  In that case the couple was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years in prison because their son used an unsecure handgun and they did not attend to behavior suggesting he could become violent. At the time of the shooting Michigan did not have a statute about securing firearms at home and that law was passed during the first prosecution of the parents. It was widely hailed as a warning to parents about securing firearms at home.

The CDC report was based on a Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System module administered in 8 states (AK, CA, MN NV, NM, NC, OH, and OK)  in 2021–2022.  The survey was administered by land line telephone calls. The nonresponse rate ranged from 3.5% to 12.8% by state.  The prevalence of firearms kept “in or around the home” was 18.4% (CA) to 50.6% (AK).  The general figure from Gallup is in the high 40%.  In 19.5% (MN) to 43.8% (NC) the firearm was stored loaded. Half of those reporting storing a loaded firearm said it was unlocked.  25.2% (OH) to 41.4% (AK) of those reporting storing an unlocked loaded firearm also reported children less than the age of 17 in the home.  For adults 65 years of age or older 58.5% (NM) to 72.5% (OK) of those with firearms had them stored unlocked.  The authors list the usual limitations of telephone self-report surveys but do not comment on cultural or political factors like the belief of some gun owners that the government is coming for their guns.  

The authors conclude that unlocked firearms may place children and other vulnerable populations at risk.  There is a higher suicide risk in the elderly.  It also illustrates how common the scenario is that led to the conviction of the parents for their son being a mass shooter. A secondary consideration of those convictions was a warning to parents that firearms at home need to be secured to prevent them from similar risks. As I commented at the time, that is a very inefficient approach to a problem that could be addressed at the population wide level. It is in effect, one political party putting parents at risk to continue saturating the population with firearms. And now we know it may be  about four in ten parents who store unlocked, loaded firearms, with children in the home.

To me, mass shootings are a function of:

- mass availability of high-capacity and rapid-fire firearms - both rifles and handguns

- gun extremism translated into effects at every level

- cultural effects - the disgruntled employee/student/etc as mass shooter has been an American meme for 50 years...

The Republican Party and their judicial appointees essentially control two of those three variables.  They are a party with no good ideas but they know how to get votes by stimulating excessive emotion around issues like firearms and abortion.  Their current approach to firearms is to place large part of the population at chronic risk with an arbitrary interpretation of the Second Amendment that they think that they can use to get votes. The basis for their gun extremist view, including the current Supreme Court decision is based on false premises rather than rational thought or legal precedent.  Americans generally don’t expect much from political parties and now they can expect the same from a highly partisan Supreme Court.    

George Dawson, MD, DFAPA



I frequently talk about gun extremism on this blog and decided to attach a checklist of what I consider gun extremism to be.  Basically it is a marked divergence with common sense gun laws from the 1970s and earlier (see Tombstone ordinance from 1881). From a political standpoint it is clearly a political maneuver to excite and agitate people and get them to vote for a particular political party.  Like all of the so-called hot button issues it is an exercise in rhetoric and conspiracy theories that has unfortunately led to historic levels of gun violence in the US when compared with high income and low and medium income countries around the world.    


Gun extremism checklist:

  Advance “stand your ground” and “castle doctrine” laws.

  Eliminate bans on handguns

  Eliminate bans on assault weapons

  Minimize the characterization of “assault weapons” or military style weapons because they are not fully automatic weapons

  Eliminate bans on large capacity magazines

  Eliminate waiting periods

  Eliminate bans on public carry of guns

  Eliminate the need for permits to purchase handguns and/or carry them openly or as concealed weapons

  Eliminate gun-free locations (ie. places of worship, public transportation, healthcare facilities, public buildings)

  Eliminate bans on self-manufacturing of firearms

  Eliminate laws on age limits to firearm purchase and possession

  Eliminate laws on age limits for handgun and ammunition purchase

  Eliminate bans on gun accessories like bump stocks and pistol grip extensions

  Eliminate laws on “cannot issue” firearms to certain purchasers

  Eliminate gun purchase bans for perpetrators of domestic violence

  Eliminate gun purchase bans for convicted felons


1:  Friar NW, Merrill-Francis M, Parker EM, Siordia C, Simon TR. Firearm Storage Behaviors — Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, Eight States, 2021–2022. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2024;73:523–528. DOI:

2:  Lithwick D, Stern MJ. The Group Helping the Supreme Court Rewrite America’s Gun Laws Is Worse Than the NRA.  Slate June 15, 2024.

3:  McClellan C, Tekin E. Stand your ground laws, homicides, and injuries. Journal of human resources. 2017 Jul 1;52(3):621-53.

4:  Rosenthal L. The limits of Second Amendment originalism and the constitutional case for gun control. Wash. UL Rev.. 2014;92:1187.

5:  Rowh A, Zwald M, Fowler K, Jack S, Siordia C, Walters J. Emergency Medical Services Encounters for Firearm Injuries — 858 Counties, United States, January 2019–September 2023. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2024;73:551–557. DOI:

6:  Andrade EG, Hoofnagle MH, Kaufman E, Seamon MJ, Pah AR, Morrison CN. Firearm laws and illegal firearm flow between US states. J Trauma Acute Care Surg. 2020 Jun;88(6):752-759. doi: 10.1097/TA.0000000000002642. PMID: 32102044; PMCID: PMC7799862.

"States with stricter firearm legislation are negatively impacted by states with weaker regulations, as crime guns flow from out-of-state."


Graphics Credit:

From Wikimedia Commons per the posted Creative Commons licensing agreement. Click on the graphic for all details including author, color coding, and specific CC license.

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