The Department of Justice anticipates issuing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that would interpret the statutory definition of “machine gun” in the National Firearms Act of 1934 and Gun Control Act of 1968 to clarify whether certain devices, commonly known as “bump fire” stocks, fall within that definition,” a Tuesday Federal Register notice advises. “Before doing so, the Department and ATF need to gather information and comments from the public and industry regarding the nature and scope of the market for these devices.”
The document comment period ends on January 25, the notice continues, providing ways to send them in either by mail or via a submission form. The notice also provides background information, including a summary of claimed statutory authority as well as the ”justification” for the proposed rule, which unsurprisingly relies heavily on last October’s Las Vegas music festival murders to make the case that such controls are needed.
Seeing as how investigators have been tight-lipped, that an inconsistent narrative has resulted in plenty of distrust and no small amount of “conspiracy theories” and an FBI estimate that a final report could not be ready until the anniversary of the killings, apportioning blame to bump stocks that are owned by plenty of Americans who don’t abuse them seems more than a bit of a rush to judgment.
As long as the subject is the federal government adding items under National Firearms Act authority (something nowhere delegated to it in the Constitution), it’s relevant to note another ludicrous overreach, such as the time a few years back when ATF’s Firearms Technology Branch deemed “Chore Boy copper cleaning pads, along with fiberglass insulation,” a firearm, subject to registration and a $200 transfer tax (read the letter here).
It’s also fair to look at the records and the environment that will apply to owners of bump stocks should the rule pass. Felony prosecutions occur even though the records are “seriously flawed.” Indeed, when it comes to the National Firearms Registration and Transfer record, an Office of Inspector General survey of ATF’s Industry Operations Inspectors noted:
“OIG asked how often there was a discrepancy between the inventory and what the NFRTR said the inventory should be: 46% of inspectors said either ‘always’ or ‘most of the time.’ (Only 5% reported ‘never’). How often was the discrepancy found in the NFRTR? 44% said always or most of the time, only 6% said ‘never.’”
“In a major victory for those of us arguing that the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record (NFRTR) is insufficient for criminal proceedings, Dr. Fritz Scheuren, “the” statistician in the United States (possibly the world), today informed the 10th District Court that the NFRTR is insufficient for criminal proceedings.”
Add to that an issue with conflicting ATF rulings making compliance problematic – indeed, ATF’s previous ruling on bump stocks was that they were outside the Bureau’s purview. And the lack of consistent and comprehensive rules has resulted in a legal complaint, because they’ve known about the problem for years:
In 2005, the Congressional Research Service published a memorandum regarding ATF firearms testing procedures. Among other things, it revealed that the ATF has “over 300 cubic feet of classification letters stored in file cabinets.” The Bureau hasn’t scanned any of these documents into a searchable database to assure consistency of interpretation, to identify and resolve regulatory conflicts. The extent to which this inconsistency has grown and compounded in intervening years is unknown and unknowable without a major organization and review effort.
How adding bump stocks into the mix will do anything beyond muddling the mix even further is not explained, but then again, this isn’t about “common sense gun safety laws” or “stopping the violence” or “getting guns off the street” – this is about politics, and representative are grateful to get a pass on accountability if the bureaucrats can take the heat instead of having to vote on a “bipartisan” bill, which is also in the works. And giving the green light to the regulatory vs. legislative approach is NRA:
“The National Rifle Association is calling on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) to immediately review whether these devices comply with federal law. The NRA believes that devices designed to allow semi-automatic rifles to function like fully automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations.”
One additional wrinkle – by not being a “qualified product,” bump stocks may not be covered by the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, so having ATF reclassify them may absolve manufacturers from legal liability – although adding a transfer tax could conceivably kill the market.
Here’s the thing: Hard core gun owner advocates are having real problems with establishment types crafting compromises on mental health, on “Fix NICS” and on bump stocks. Republican majorities are in the House and in the Senate, and a Republican president is in the White House. They wouldn’t be there were it not for gun owners.
Why are we talking more “gun control”? And in spite of those majorities, it’s beginning to look like the much-trumpeted “national reciprocity” trade-off may be “going nowhere”.
“[T]he Senate version … remains in the Senate Judiciary Committee and may never be presented for a vote as Democrats, and some Republicans, challenge supporters’ claims that national reciprocity would clarify confusion in negotiating the state-by-state matrix of concealed carry laws.”
Note no one who owes his position of power to gun owners is talking about challenging the Hughes Amendment. And far be it from anyone to propose overturning NFA ’34 altogether. Talk about something that clearly infringes on the very arms that have “some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia [or] that [are] part of the ordinary military equipment, or that … could contribute to the common defense.”
Instead, we’re being asked to help provide cover to rationalize yet another Intolerable Act, and this one with the sanction of our “gun rights leaders.” If that doesn’t set well with you, submit a comment on the proposed rule.
What should you say? Feel free to use any of the arguments presented here, or post insights of your own and share them with the rest of us in comments.
About David Codrea:
David Codrea is the winner of multiple journalist awards for investigating / defending the RKBA and a long-time gun owner rights advocate who defiantly challenges the folly of citizen disarmament.
In addition to being a field editor/columnist at GUNS Magazine and associate editor for Oath Keepers, he blogs at “The War on Guns: Notes from the Resistance,” and posts on Twitter: @dcodrea and Facebook.