October’s devastating gun massacre in Las Vegas brought bump stocks, a previously little-known device that allows semi-automatic rifles to mimic machine guns, to the forefront of the gun control battle.
Congressmen called for a complete ban after the tragedy, but their efforts floundered. The knee-jerk reaction after mass shootings is to attack the Second Amendment and search for ways to curtail the freedoms that it grants. Bump stocks “perpetuate evil” and must be removed from society according to gun control activists.
State and local governments, however, have proven to be more responsive. Multiple states and cities now ban bump stocks.
The controversial device, approved by the Obama administration multiple times, skirted by the law because technically, the weapons that it attaches to aren’t automatic. In 2010 the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) ruled that bump stocks were perfectly legal.
“It’s a proper determination. Everybody wants to jump the gun and say that ATF made a mistake,” said Richard Vasquez, former assistant chief of the ATF’s technology bureau.
“ATF didn’t make a mistake… If ATF is allowed to write a regulation to change the definition of this device, instead of a law, it’s going to give all government agencies authority to change their regulations, which could affect us in a wide variety of ways.”
Stephen Paddock, the madmen who killed 58 people and injured hundreds more during the Las Vegas shooting, used bump stocks to increase his efficiency. He altered his rifles to become more deadly, and his action was perfectly legal.
It’s argued that if Paddock didn’t have access to bump stocks, the massacre would have been far less deadly.
“If you believe that automatic weapons should be highly regulated and limited, then why would you be against banning a device that makes a gun an automatic weapon?” asked Sen. Lindsey Graham.
Massachusetts, New Jersey, South Carolina and the of Denver and Columbia have enacted their bump stock bans. More places are expected to follow suit.
“Anti-gun Democrats love to ban things. That is their answer,” complained Erich Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America. “This is their chance to say, ‘Hey, we’re doing something. Look at us. We’re doing something.’ It’s not going to do anything.”
The problem, argues Second Amendment advocates like the National Rifle Association (NRA), lies not with rifles but with the maniacs who use them to harm people. People who want to hurt others will find a way.
Democrats blame the NRA for killing federal bump stock bans after the Las Vegas shooting.
“I don’t think the N.R.A. has killed it, but they have certainly put the brakes on,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, a national advocacy group.
“Their original statement was a wink and a nod by saying that it should be something that A.T.F. looked at. They knew very well that was an effort to divert attention from legislation.”
Senator Richard J. Durbin, (D-IL), whined that: “Every time there’s a gun massacre, we have outrage, grief, and silence, and that’s what’s happened here… It happens again and again and again, and this situation is so obvious. It’s a simple fix. And when the National Rifle Association said, ‘We don’t want to see legislation’ — end of story.”
One of the problems facing bump stock critics is that it’s nearly impossible to estimate how many of the devices are in circulation. Sales were sluggish before Paddock’s attack yet surged afterward. The leading manufacturer temporarily sold out.
Massachusetts enacted its ban within a month of the shooting. New Jersey’s ban went into effect in January.
The federal stance is unlikely to change until the ATF alters its ruling.
“Right now everyone’s in a holding pattern because some people around here have hope that A.T.F. will bail us out,” Florida’s Rep. Carlos Curbelo said.
The NRA was the first group to acknowledge that the ATF has the real power in the debate. After the Las Vegas shooting the group said that it would consider supporting a ban, but more importantly it would review if the devices were truly compliant with federal law.
The ATF, meanwhile, is sticking to its position that it has no authority to regulate bump stocks because they technically aren’t firearms.