Bump stocks. They’re legal. They’re not considered “machine guns” under the National Firearms Act. On at least two separate occasions, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has said so. But now their official status as a “firearm part” is in jeopardy thanks to the National Rifle Association.
Remember, following the tragedy in Vegas, it was the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre that said the ATF needed to “do its job” to determine if bump stocks should be subject to “additional regulations.”
That’s exactly what the ATF, at the behest of the Dept. of Justice, is currently doing. ATF announced Tuesday it “has begun the process of promulgating a federal regulation interpreting the definition of ‘machinegun’ under federal law to clarify whether certain bump stock devices fall within that definition.”
What this means is that the agency is drawing up an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM), which will then be submitted to the Office of Management and Budget. The good news is that the ANPRM provides an avenue for the public and the gun industry to chime in before any final decision is made. We need to remind the ATF that this is a settled matter. It’s own regulators very sensibly concluded that it is a firearm part. Not a machine gun!
“The stock has no automatically functioning mechanical parts or springs and performs no automatic mechanical function when installed,” said the ATF in 2010, responding to Slide Fire’s submission for classification. Hard to see how the ATF can reverse that determination without getting egg on its face.
Comments from the public are not taken lightly in this process. When the ATF attempted to “reclassify” (aka ban) green tip ammo during the Obama years, it noted that a “vast majority” of the comments received were critical of the proposed change. As a result, it suspended the “framework” for reclassification. It was a big win for gun owners.
To be fair to the NRA, many believe what they did was a smart move. By calling for a Trump-controlled ATF to review bump stocks, they kept the matter out of the halls of Congress.
I imagine the NRA’s thought process to be something like this:
Most gun owners don’t give a rip about bump stocks. And if gun owners don’t care about bump stocks, defending a device that accelerates the rate of fire to mimic full auto firearms to the non-gun owning public is an almost impossible task. Especially in the wake of the deadliest shooting in American history.
Bump stocks are on the chopping block, whether we like it or not. What can we do to mitigate the damage? Instead of supporting new legislation for banning bump stocks, like those that Feinstein and others have introduced, let’s see if we can turn the matter over to ATF. At least there it’s a contained environment. We don’t have to worry about anti-gun lawmakers trying to tack on more gun-grabbing legislation in the final hour. As would be the case if this ends up in the House and Senate.
The problem I have with this mindset is that it’s defeatist. It starts from the premise that it’s a no-win situation. That bump stocks are doomed to be regulated. It also creates a slippery slope for the government to politicize or weaponize the ATF. Compelling the ATF to tinker with the definition of “machine gun” is going to open up a can of worms. And who knows what the repercussions will be. Lastly, the NFA is a sham to begin with. I don’t believe we should regulate machine guns any different than we regulate semiautomatics. Of course, I know I’m in the minority on this.
“Possessing firearm parts that are used exclusively in converting a weapon into a machine gun is illegal, except for certain limited circumstances,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a press release. “Today we begin the process of determining whether or not bump stocks are covered by this prohibition. We will go through the regulatory process that is required by law and we will be attentive to input from the public.”
Anyways, the NRA got what it wanted. The review process is underway. Bump stocks are teed up to be a sacrificial lamb. And barring some serious outcry from gun owners, ATF will find a regulatory glitch to say that a lawful product is somehow unlawful.