U.S. chief justice rejects bid to block 'bump stocks' gun ban

WASHINGTON, March 26 (Reuters) - U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts on Tuesday rejected a bid by gun rights activists to put on hold a ban by President Donald Trump's administration on "bump stock" gun attachments that enable semi-automatic weapons to be fired rapidly.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor has not yet acted on another similar request. The ban goes into effect on Tuesday but lower courts have yet to rule on an appeals brought by gun rights activists in Michigan and the U.S. capital.

Trump pledged to ban the devices soon after a gunman used them to shoot and kill 58 people at a country music festival in Las Vegas in October 2017. The Justice Department on Dec. 18 announced plans to implement the policy.

A Washington-based federal district court judge in February upheld the ban, prompting gun rights advocates to appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. That court heard oral arguments on Friday but has not yet ruled. The appeals court, however, say that the ban cannot go into effect in relation to the specific individuals and groups challenging it.

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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy delivers a lecture for visiting international attorneys in the West Conference Room at the Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. June 20, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
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Visitors look on as attorney John Duggan (R) takes photos with his family, after arguing a case at the U.S. Supreme Court building, on the first day of the court's new term in Washington, U.S. October 5, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas jokes with his clerks as he describes their decision-making process in his chambers at the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. June 6, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer looks for a favourite volume of Proust in his rare book collection in his chambers at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S. June 8, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts eats a bowl of soup as he sits down to lunch with his team of clerks in his private study at the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. June 15, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
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U.S. Deputy Solicitor General Michael Dreeben departs the U.S. Justice Department in traditional morning coat on his way to argue his one-hundredth case before the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, U.S. April 27, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 
U.S. Supreme Court justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor sit on stage as they talk about the role of food in the life of the U.S. Supreme Court at the National Museum of American History in Washington, U.S. June 1, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
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The action by Roberts concerned only the Washington case. The challengers in the Washington case include individual gun owners and gun rights groups such as the Firearms Policy Foundation and Florida Carry Inc.

In the Michigan case, a federal district court judge last week ruled in favor of the administration. The challengers include individuals and the gun rights group Gun Owners of America. The Cincinnati, Ohio-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday refused to put the ban on hold pending appeal.

Sotomayor is now weighing an emergency request in that case.

On the day the administration announced plans to put the policy in place, gun rights advocates sued in federal court to challenge it. They have argued that the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) lacks the authority to equate bump stocks with machine guns under decades-old law.

One of the laws at the center of the legal dispute was written more than 80 years ago, when Congress restricted access to machine guns during the heyday of American gangsters' use of "tommy guns." (Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

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