As we’ve written a number of times, the Trump administration appears to to be about to announce a virtual ban on bump fire stocks. If the rule they’ve published is adopted, the stocks will be considered the equivalent of machine guns and fall under NFA regulation, (months-long permission requests and a $200 tax stamp). And anyone who owns one will have to turn theirs in or destroy it.
The fact that bump fire stocks are perfectly legal under current law — that’s why the ATF approved them in the first place — doesn’t seem to matter much to the commander-in-chief. He apparently sees this as an easy PR move that won’t affect many gun owners while being a sop to the #gunsense crowd (as if that will change their minds about him).
We’ve also pointed out that re-regulating a perfectly legal gun accessory by regulatory fiat for political reasons is a supremely dangerous idea. One that is almost sure to come back and bite gun owners down the road when a less gun-friendly administration is in power.
As reason.com points out even some of our most rabid gun-grabbers knew they couldn’t legally ban bump stocks:
The Obama administration affirmed the legality of bump stocks on three different occasions: once in 2010, again in 2012, and once more in 2013.
As Sen. Diane Feinstein (D–Calif.) said in a February statement: The ATF “currently lacks authority under the law to ban bump stocks.”
In addition to being legally questionable, a bump stock ban probably wouldn’t do very much. No mass shooters before or after Las Vegas have used bump stocks to carry out their massacres. Even in Las Vegas, the death toll wasn’t necessarily higher because the shooter used one.
When your application of gun laws is less legally defensible than the Obama administration’s, you know you’re doing it wrong. Or you certainly should.
Most gun enthusiasts have little need for bump stocks. So they’re a relatively easy target for those who want more gun control, and a relatively easy sacrifice for gun rights advocates. Hence the reportedly pending ban. As (Christian) Britschgi argued in October 2017: “Banning bump stocks is something that can be done without pissing too many people off, placating the crowd that after every shooting in America screams for somebody to do something.”
That’s no doubt the Trump administration’s calculation here. But legality aside, a bump stock ban would also be an extraordinarily bad political move. The Civilian Disarmament Industrial Complex, by its very nature, can never be satisfied or placated. Trump will get precisely zero credit beyond perhaps a single news cycle for a ban. The gun-grabbing crowd and their media cheering section will then pick up right where they left off on their long march toward their ultimate goal of disarming all Americans.
On the other side of the ledger, a bump stock ban will be a very effective way of angering some of the President’s hardest-core supporters…gun owners and Second Amendment advocates.
Those who own bump fire stocks won’t appreciate being given the choice of destroying their property, turning it in (with no compensation), or becoming felons. And knowledgeable gun owners will understand that while bump stocks may be mostly “range toys,” this won’t end here. Any capitulation on the part of someone the NRA worked so hard to put in office will only diminish his support among a significant constituency he’ll need in 2020.
In short, re-regulating bump fire stocks would be a huge political blunder and — without a successful court challenge — would put Americans’ gun rights at greater risk in the future.