The Justice Department has proposed a new regulation effectively banning bump stocks, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on Friday. The new rule will reclassify the gun modification devices, which are used to mimic automatic fire with a semi-automatic weapon, as machine guns, which are banned under federal law.
The Trump administration’s strategy to ban the devices goes against the recommendations of federal law enforcement officials. In 2010, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives concluded that it could not regulate bump stocks since the devices could not be classified as machine guns since they do not permanently alter the trigger mechanism of a firearm. Another review conducted by ATF officials last year concluded that bump stocks could only be banned by an act of Congress. Sessions apparently hopes to get around that problem by reinterpreting the term “machine gun.”
The new DOJ-proposed rule will now go into the Federal Register and face a 90-day comment period before going into effect. If that happens, the possession of bump stocks would be criminalized and owners of the devices would have to immediately surrender or destroy them. But since bump stock manufacturers specifically designed the devices to avoid being classified as machine guns, expect the rule-based ban to face lawsuits from them and gun rights advocates, as a ban of the devices in Florida already has.
The rule change came on the eve of Saturday’s nationwide March for Our Lives protests against gun violence, and Sessions’s statement quickly followed a Friday tweet from President Trump announcing the ban.
The gunman behind last fall’s mass shooting at a music festival in Las Vegas used a bump stock to allow him to fire more rounds into the crowd. 58 people were killed in that attack, and hundreds more wounded. Though bump stocks played no role in the mass shooting that killed 17 people at a Florida high school last month, President Trump and others quickly focused on banning bump stocks in their response to the outrage that followed.
President Trump’s Friday tweet also attempted to blame President Obama for having “legalized” bump stocks in the first place, a misleading reference to how the original ATF review of the devices happened during the Obama administration. At that time, law enforcement officials concluded that the federal government could not legally ban the devices without Congress. The Trump administration is now disregarding that conclusion and trying to impose the ban anyway. We’ll soon find out who was right.