Although he is still endorsed by the NRA, President Trump just presided over the biggest federal restriction on the Second Amendment since President Clinton signed the assault weapons ban in 1994. On Tuesday, the Trump Administration officially banned bump stocks in a regulatory move that bypassed Congress.
In a scenario reminiscent of the worst fears of gun owners, the new federal regulation makes it illegal to possess a bump stock. Any person who possesses one of the rapid-fire devices must either surrender it to authorities or destroy it when the new regulation takes effect. Per the Associated Press, the deadline to comply will be 90 days after the regulation is published in the Federal Register. That is expected to happen Friday, meaning that bump stock owners will have until late March to decide how to dispose of their property.
The regulation was signed into law by President Trump’s newly appointed Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker. The president had directed then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to “propose regulations that ban all devices that turn legal weapons into machine guns” last February. CNN reported in November after the election that the regulation had been finalized and would be issued soon.
The bump stock ban seems to be a solution in search of a problem. The devices, which use the recoil of the gun to help the shooter pull the trigger rapidly, are not typically used in crimes. The exception was the October 2017 Las Vegas massacre in which the murderer used a rifle with a bump stock to kill 59 people. Bump stocks make it difficult to aim and shoot accurately, but concert-goers in Las Vegas were packed into such a tight area that aiming was hardly necessary.
Ironically, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms under Barack Obama determined that a regulatory bump stock ban was not legal under current law. In 2013, the assistant director of the ATF wrote to a member of Congress that bump stocks “are not subject to the provisions of federal firearms statutes” and were therefore legal. The letter stated that the devices did “not provide an automatic action — requiring instead continuous multiple inputs (trigger pulls) by the user for each successive shot” and were therefore not subject to the Federal Firearms Act. In the expert opinion of the ATF, a bump stock ban would require Congress to pass new legislation.
Now, five years later, the Trump Administration is arguing that the Obama-era ATF was wrong and that bump stocks are in violation of the Federal Firearms Act. The laws of physics have not changed over the past five years. Guns with bump stocks still require separate trigger pulls to fire multiple times. Neither has the Federal Firearms Act changed. The only thing that has changed is the Trump Administration’s interpretation of the law.
Jennifer Baker, a spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association, told the AP that the organization was “disappointed” by the ban. Baker said that the regulation “fails to address the thousands of law-abiding Americans” who bought the devices before the Trump Administration deemed them to be illegal and argued that current owners should be grandfathered in with an amnesty.
The Trump bump stock ban contains many of the worst aspects of liberal gun control plans and sets a dangerous precedent. First, the ban is arbitrary and will have little, if any, effect on public safety. The rationale for the ban, that no one really needs a bump stock, is the same rationale that many liberals use to advocate banning AR-15s and guns in general. Proponents say that bump stocks are a gun accessory and not protected by the Second Amendment, but the same argument could be made for many other items including scopes, reloading equipment, magazines, and ammunition.
More disturbing is that the Trump Administration is bypassing Congress to invoke the ban in violation of the Federal Firearms Act. Current law defines a “machine gun” as “any 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.” However, as the ATF pointed out in 2013, that does not describe a bump stock’s operation. Reading the law to mean something that it does not say is usually strongly criticized by conservatives.
The new regulation goes further in restricting the Second Amendment than anything successfully enacted by Barack Obama, who was notoriously anti-gun. The Republican Congress killed Obama’s proposed gun restrictions limiting the former president to issuing a series of Executive Orders that fell short of banning any weapon or accessory.
President Trump’s bump stock ban is a blueprint that future anti-gun Democrat presidents can use to bypass Congress and further restrict the Second Amendment. In addition to being an anti-gun measure, the move is a flagrant abuse of executive authority.
There is no word on whether the NRA will endorse President Trump for reelection.