By: Teresa Mull
The Trump Administration’s ban on bump stocks went into effect yesterday, officially making selling or owning one of the firearms accessories a crime punishable with up to 10 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.
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.
Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie tweeted his objection to the new law, writing:
The executive bump stock ban that goes into effect today is unconstitutional. It’s also an ugly preview of how future gun bans could be implemented. This is a sad day for America.The ATF under President Obama ruled that bump stocks were legal and now President Trump has directed them to reverse that legal opinion without compensating owners for the confiscation or destruction of formally legal property.
The role of the executive branch is to execute the laws faithfully, not to rewrite them.
The executive bump stock ban that goes into effect today is unconstitutional. It’s also an ugly preview of how future gun bans could be implemented. This is a sad day for America.— Thomas Massie (@RepThomasMassie) March 26, 2019
Ongoing Fight in Michigan
GPM reported earlier this year that Gun Owners of America (GOA) had filed a lawsuit in the Western District of Michigan challenging the Trump Administration’s bump stock ban.
In mid-December, DOJ amended the regulations of the ATF clarifying that bump stocks should be considered “machineguns” because they allow “a shooter of a semiautomatic firearm to initiate a continuous firing cycle with a single pull of the trigger,” the Department’s press release stated.
“In a move which is almost certainly illegal, BATF ‘gives’ bump stock owners 90 days to destroy their $300 piece of property -- or to bring it into a BATF office for relinquishment without any compensation whatsoever,” Michael Hammond, legislative director for GOA told Gunpowder Magazine.
“The Ninth Circuit has recently held that California’s retroactive ban on and seizure of magazines is an unconstitutional ‘taking’ under the regulatory ‘takings’ doctrine under … the Fifth Amendment. This almost certainly follows that precedent.”
GOA’s lawsuit challenges this designation by arguing, “ATF has acknowledged that such devices, which have ‘no automatically functioning mechanical parts or springs and perform no automatic mechanical function when installed,’ are not machineguns under federal law.”
Why This Ban Matters
For a refresher on why this bump stock ban matters, read what GPM’s Ted Patterson wrote on the subject last year:
Is it true that bump stocks increase the rate of fire? Absolutely. But they do not transform a semi-automatic weapon into a fully-automatic weapon, as an ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms) agent noted recently:
“The classification of these devices depends on whether they mechanically alter the function of the firearm to fire fully automatic…Bump-fire stocks, while simulating automatic fire, do not actually alter the firearm to fire automatically, making them legal under current federal law.”
Most shooters don’t want anything to do with bump stocks for accuracy reasons. By using the recoil to increase the rate of fire, it becomes difficult to shoot on target.
It wasn’t until after the Las Vegas shooting in October 2017, however, that bump stocks really became popular for purchase. Gun owners, rightly concerned about government action to ban anything and everything after tragedies, bought bump stocks in record numbers simply because they wanted to buy them before they were banned.
A gun shop owner in Las Vegas recently told The Christian Science Monitor:
“All of the sudden we’re getting all these calls about these bump-fire stocks. It’s getting ridiculous – these people never even knew what a bump-fire stock was until they saw it on the news. It’s the new hype. All of the sudden, people are saying, ‘I got to get one of these before they’re not available anymore.’”
Almost every article you read on the subject of bump stocks references the Las Vegas concert shooting as the key case study on why bump stocks should be banned. The assailant in that massacre indeed had a number of guns in his arsenal with bump stocks. However, you can point to other shootings like the recent Parkland, Florida shooting where no bump stocks were used. Just because a certain gun was used for violence, or certain add-ons or modifications were made to a gun used, does not mean we should outright ban whatever weapons or accessories were used.
Banning bump stocks doesn’t affect most gun owners, and most of them don’t care about bump stocks, but the precedent such action sets, especially at the federal level, is significant. There is a bigger reason why bump stocks matter. Why do we need the federal government and state governments in the business of regulating, banning, and otherwise meddling with gun accessories? Isn’t it bad enough they are banning guns and magazines left and right?
That’s why many gun owners are determined to fight this – not so much for what banning bump stocks does, but for what it may lead to.
Knee-jerk reactions to violence are not new. People forget that some of the first major efforts to ban and restrict access to guns came after the Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1927, where Chicago gangsters got into a gunfight, and seven involved were killed by thugs using Thompson submachine guns. After this incident, the first iterations of background checks and huge taxes on automatic weapons were made law.
Fast-forward to 1986, when Congress banned automatic weapons altogether.
And yet, the worst shootings with the most carnage are happening today in an America without automatic weapons and with new gun restrictions going on the books in state after state.
Look no further than Baltimore (recently named “the nation’s most dangerous city”) and Chicago to see how gun control ends up “working.”
So, unfortunately, it looks like bump stocks will meet their fate across the country very quickly. Politicians will pat themselves on the back, and they will tell grieving parents that something was done. But in the end, more gun control will not stop the violence one bit, and it will not make people safer.
Teresa Mull is editor of Gunpowder Magazine. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.