The Trump administration will soon ban bump stocks, the aftermarket devices allowing semiautomatic weapons to fire multiple shots in rapid succession, CNN reported Wednesday.
The move will come nearly 14 months after Stephen Paddock used bump stocks to help him kill 58 people at the Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas. Days after the shooting, President Trump said he would look into banning bump stocks. And for a moment, it looked as if he might have had the National Rifle Association on his side. The group said at the time that “devices designed to allow semiautomatic rifles to function like fully automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations.”
But less than two weeks after the Las Vegas shooting, the ban lost momentum. Congressional Republicans backed away from a legislative fix, endorsing a change to ATF regulations instead. Months went by without any movement, and by February of this year the NRA made it clear that it was no longer interested in banning bump stocks.
Trump, however, forged ahead. On March 23, weeks after the shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, and one day before the March for Our Lives, he announced a new regulation to ban bump stocks. At the time, then–Attorney General Jeff Sessions called the move a “critical step in our effort to reduce the threat of gun violence.”
That’s nonsense. The bump-stock ban is, and has always been, a smoke screen. Making these devices illegal will do nothing to reduce gun violence in the U.S. That’s why they’ve become an easy target for the Trump administration. Banning bump stocks won’t make people safer, but it’s a simple way to pretend to.
Bump stocks are a novelty. Few people knew what they were before the Las Vegas shooting, and those who did largely considered them unreliable and impractical. There are also other devices that have the same effect on semiautomatic weapons. Making bump stocks the boogeyman made perfect sense for gun-rights advocates. Focusing on them takes attention off of the weapons themselves, and banning them would take away only one method of bump firing a semiautomatic rifle.
Eager for a win, gun-control advocates have pushed the bump-stock ban too. But their proposals went further than Trump’s. The Automatic Gunfire Prevention Act, introduced last year by Senator Dianne Feinstein, would have banned “the sale, transfer, importation, manufacture or possession of bump stocks, trigger cranks and similar accessories that accelerate a semiautomatic rifle’s rate of fire.” Crucially, it also would have implemented those changes in a law.
But the Democratic effort was also about the bigger picture. As Nancy Pelosi acknowledged, passing that law could have, in an ideal world, led to more legislation for stricter gun-control measures that, unlike a bump-stock ban, would actually result in fewer mass-shooting deaths in the U.S.