Our friends at the ATF are in charge of regulating firearms. Which means they have to have a significant amount of expertise in how they work and the laws that apply to them. From people we know who deal with the ATF’s technical branch, they do a pretty good job of calling balls and strikes when it comes to applying laws such as the National Firearms Act and the Gun Control Act of 1968 to the various firearms and products they’re asked to examine and approve.
And yet the final rule the agency has written re-classifying bump fire stocks as the equivalent of machine guns contains this gem:
The NPRM proposed to amend the regulations at 27 CFR 447.11, 478.11, and 479.11 to clarify that bump-stock-type devices are “machineguns” as defined by the NFA and GCA because such devices allow a shooter of a semiautomatic firearm to initiate a continuous firing cycle with a single pull of the trigger. Specifically, these devices convert an otherwise semiautomatic firearm into a machinegun by functioning as a self-acting or self-regulating mechanism that harnesses the recoil energy of the semiautomatic firearm in a manner that allows the trigger to reset and continue firing without additional physical manipulation of the trigger by the shooter. Hence, a semiautomatic firearm to which a bump-stock-type device is attached is able to produce automatic fire with a single pull of the trigger. 83 FR at 13447-48.
The reality of how a bump fire stock works couldn’t be more different than the way it’s described in the ATF’s rule. A bump stock doesn’t “produce automatic fire with a single pull of the trigger.”
Instead, a bump stock requires the user to maintain forward pressure on the stock and press the trigger for each round fired, just like any other semi-automatic rifle. While a bump stock certainly speeds up the process via its recoil-actuated slide action, the ATF’s description is utterly false.
We’re not attorneys, but that should make the new rule ripe for a court challenge.
The National Firearms Act, 26 U.S.C. § 5845(b), defines a machine gun to include 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.
There’s no reasonable reading of that language that applies to a bump fire stock.
Here’s what the ATF wrote when they originally approved the first bump fire stock for SlideFire back in 2010.
Let us quote the relevant portion:
The stock has no automatically functioning mechanical parts or springs and performs no automatic mechanical function when installed. In order to use the installed device, the user must apply constant forward pressure with the non-shooting hand and constant rearward pressure with the shooting hand. Accordingly, we find that the “bump-stock” is a firearm part and is not regulated as a firearm under the Gun Control Act or National Firearms Act.
What changed since 2010? The Las Vegas concert shooting happened, that’s what changed…the only crime ever committed during which a bump fire stock was used.
Bump fire stocks still work exactly the same way they always have. They work exactly the same way they did in 2010 when the ATF first looked at them. Only now, there’s heavy political pressure being applied from the White House to ban bump fire stocks in order to say that they’ve “done something” to fix the problem.
In order to comply with a political order from the President, the ATF has twisted their interpretation of what constitutes a machine gun beyond all recognition.
Various groups have vowed to sue the ATF and the administration over this [UPDATE: the first lawsuit has already been filed] once the new rule is published in the federal register and officially becomes law. The question then will become, will a judge apply the law as written or will he or she go along with the ATF’s arbitrary, capricious and mistaken reclassification of bump fire stocks as machine guns?