February 21, 2018

Bump Stock Ban Gets Trump’s Support

For a device intended to circumvent the 1934 ban on automatic weapons, it’s an understandable move.

“Just a few moments ago I signed a memo directing the attorney general to propose regulations that ban all devices that turn legal weapons into machine guns,” President Donald Trump announced Tuesday. Turning to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Trump further stated, “I expect these regulations to be finalized, Jeff, very soon.” In so doing, Trump clearly expressed his desire for a ban on bump stock devices — an item that much of the American public became aware of only after the Las Vegas atrocity last year. As we noted then, the essential purpose of the bump stock device is to circumvent the 1934 ban on automatic weapons.

Recall that, back in 2010, the ATF under Barack Obama approved the bump stock, arguing that it did not fall under the purview of the law banning machine guns. And to be fair, the ATF was working with a gray area. The law defines a “machine gun” as a “weapon which shoots, is designed to shoot, or can be readily restored to shoot, automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger.” In other words, by the book, a bump stock does not change a semi-automatic rifle into a fully automatic rifle, even though it does simulate the rapid-firing effect. It’s a classic example of letter of the law versus the spirit of the law. And in this case, Trump’s call for a ban is correct, though once again action from Congress is likely needed for clarification.

Putting all the nuanced details aside, this is primarily about pushing a feel-good measure that enjoys wide support both nationally and within Congress. The practical reality is that the banning of bump stocks will likely have little to no impact on preventing future mass shootings. In fact, the only known instance of its use in a crime was the Las Vegas massacre. However, regarding actual gun regulation loopholes, this is a gaping one that can be all too easily exploited by the anti-gun lobby. Closing it is the right move both for abiding by the spirit of the 1934 law banning machine guns and protecting against those who point to the bump stock loophole as an excuse to justify the “need” for creating even more gun control legislation, ultimately designed to further limit Americans’ Second Amendment rights.

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