The National Rifle Association’s decision to stand down over the issue of bump fire stocks has generated a lot of concern, both among TTAG’s readership and elsewhere in the gun owning community. From my current vantage point on a busman’s holiday in a Northern Michigan lakeside hamlet, geographically and emotionally removed from the Potomac, I’m not worried.
This is the strongest position the NRA could have taken, and it has made me roll back some of my general concerns over whether the gun rights org’s leadership has the chops to fight for the Second Amendment during the Trump years and beyond.
The NRA has said 1) they aren’t going to oppose some sort of regulation on bump fire stocks (although LaPierre has insisted that they aren’t calling for a ban), and 2) the BATFE should review and decide whether or not bump fire stocks fall under federal regulations.
From the NRA’s official statement:
In Las Vegas, reports indicate that certain devices were used to modify the firearms involved. Despite the fact that the Obama administration approved the sale of bump fire stocks on at least two occasions, 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.
This was a smart move. For the price of giving up something that couldn’t be defended anyway, they’ve improved their strategic position in two ways:
1) The NRA dodged an incoming blow from the enemy aimed at poisoning the image of their organization in the minds of the people.
2) The NRA has taken a position that requires the enemy to attack its own allies if they want an immediate victory.
On the first point, the gun control lobby and its collaborators were already ginning up a propaganda salvo against the nation’s oldest civil rights organization. Instead of taking the blow, the NRA stepped out of the way.
“In war,” Sun Tzu tells us, “the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak.”
Wait a minute, shouldn’t the NRA fight tooth-and-nail against every regulation that remotely affects guns?
No. As any gambler knows, you gotta know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em. In this case, the enemy has blind, ignorant, emotional fear in a mass audience and a clearly-defined target: bump fire stocks.
In opposition, the pro-bump fire stock side has…well, not much. Bump fire stocks don’t add anything to a citizen’s ability to use a rifle in defense of herself or our nation. They appear to be fashion accessories for entertainment purposes only. In fact, the SildeFire tag line is “Prepare to change the way you play.” As far as self-interest goes, we’re lucky if maybe 1/10th of 1% of gun owners actually own or aspire to get one.
We could compose a well-crafted libertarian argument for the abstract right of a man to possess anything he wants as long as he’s not harming others, and the freedom to be square pegs in round holes. But in the court of fickle public opinion, an abstract argument in the clouds falls to one based on mass fear aimed a concrete target any day of the week.
Standing against this would devalue the credibility of the NRA in the minds of people who, again, are being guided by irrational fear in the aftermath of an atrocity. People tend not to respond well to others who exacerbate their fears.
So the NRA declined the opportunity to fight on terrain that could not be defended, and that would leave them with a stain on their record in the eyes of the many whose analysis on this issue is guided by fear in the wake of the Las Vegas attack.
That was good by itself. But the NRA also laid a subtle trap for its opponents.
They said regulations should be reviewed — and they encouraged the BATFE to do so. Not Congress. Now, if the gun control left wants a quick win for which they can gain political credit, they need to endorse Steve Bannon’s position on the administrative state.
Yes, that’s right, the NRA just walked away from a losing hand and moved to the most favorable ground possible.
And, if the statement from Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Bloombergia), is any guide, the gun control lobby is accepting those terms of battle. Mrs. Feinstein essentially declared that the BATFE does not possess the inherent authority to promulgate regulations on anything without a carefully-worded authorization from Congress.
On the one hand, if we wait for the BATFE to ‘examine’ the regulations and decide whether or not existing laws give them the authority to regulate bump fire stocks, that will be a drawn-out process. Eventually, the BATFE will either decide that it can or cannot promulgate additional regulations on bump fire stocks under existing law.
If they decide they can’t, Congress may take up the issue at that point. But that will happen months later, in a more dispassionate manner, after the heat of the moment has passed.
If the BATFE decides it can promulgate new regulations, those new regs will be subject to public comment — of the sort that derailed an Obama Administration attempt to ban certain rifle rounds in 2015. In that case, the 1/10th of 1% of people who own and care about bump fire stocks might be able to punch above their weight in the comment period.
Of course, there are ways an administrative agency can get around public comments — like choosing to change a definition. Fine. In that case the regulation on bump fire stocks gets imposed…and no one gets any political credit for it on the left.
In fact, if anyone gets ‘credit’ for it…it’s the branch of government the BATFE works for, which is currently headed by Donald J. Trump, Sr. Generally, the issue is politically neutralized. Again, if it’s a loss anyway, this is probably the least-damaging way to take it.
Mrs. Feinstein and her gun control paymasters want some sort of regulation and they want to gain politically from doing so. They know their best chance of getting both is in the heat of the moment — given a chance for passions to cool, it falls apart for them.
So they’ll try to get something pushed through Congress. But the NRA’s position is an excellent rationalization for inertia. “I agree, Dianne, something should be done, but let’s let the experts at BATFE do their review first.”
To get something passed now, the gun control lobby has to argue that there’s no point in waiting, that the BATFE doesn’t have the power to regulate items absent direct Congressional authorization. This is the position Senator Feinstein has taken.
When the gun control lobby says that regulations touching on guns have to be crafted transparently via the legislation, not crafted by unelected bureaucrats in an opaque process, well, I think that’s a step forward for everyone. They have to undermine one of the tools — the administrative state — that the state uses oppress us all.
Given the context of the moment, I’m having a hard time seeing a real down-side here.
Of course, my argument falls apart if you believe that bump fire stocks can and should be defended substantively, and that this position can either prevail on its own, or lead to a future win. I don’t see that, but you can try to convince me in the comments — have at it.
Minor edits for grammar and clarity made after publication. -JKP