Bump stocks a start

December 20, 2018

Try as we might, it’s hard to get too excited about the Trump administration’s ban on bump stocks, the type of device a gunman added to his weapon to give it the rapid firepower needed to kill 58 people during a mass shooting in Las Vegas last year.

President Donald Trump certainly deserves credit for fulfilling the promise he made to ban bump stocks after the Oct. 1, 2017 massacre in Nevada. The ban alone, however, won’t prevent a similar tragedy from occurring. That will take sterner measures that address the actual weapons used to kill people, not just the devices that make those weapons more lethal.

As many as 520,000 bump stocks may be attached to guns owned by Americans, according to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, but the ATF admits that’s only a guess. Many of the devices are untraceable because they don’t have serial numbers.

The people who own bump stocks are unlikely to fess up and turn them in, which is what the new Trump rule requires them to do. Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker signed a regulation Tuesday that gives gun owners 90 days after it is published in the Federal Register this week to turn in or destroy their bump stocks. After that, it will be illegal to possess them under the same federal laws that prohibit machine guns.

It should surprise no one that the National Rifle Association is opposed to the new rule, saying bump stocks shouldn’t be regulated as if they were guns. That’s actually the same view the ATF took in 2010. Asked for its approval by a bump-stock manufacturer, the ATF said gun laws didn’t apply to the device because it “has no automatically functioning mechanical parts or springs and performs no automatic mechanical function when installed.”

Trump pounced on that earlier opinion by an Obama administration agency when he promised last year to ban bump stocks. Congress, meanwhile, has done its usual job of talking loud and doing nothing when it comes to gun law reform.

States that have already banned bump stocks provide little reason to believe the federal ban will be effective. Five months after New Jersey initiated a ban in January, not a single bump stock had been turned in. Massachusetts passed a ban in November 2017, but by February only three bump stocks had been turned in. California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Maryland, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington have also banned bump stocks.

The ATF estimates that between 2011 and 2017 Americans spent $96.2 million on bump stocks, which can cost from $180 to $425 each. Mark Pennak, president of a Maryland gun rights group, says it’s unfair to confiscate bump stocks without compensating their owners. “You’re criminalizing a plastic item, and sending people to prison for three years for it,” he said.

His point might carry more weight if bump stocks had not been used by the killer in Las Vegas to mow down 58 people in a little more than 10 minutes. The gunman used multiple weapons outfitted with target scopes and bump stocks and then fatally shot himself. Fourteen of the 23 assault-style weapons recovered in his Mandalay Bay hotel suite were fitted with bump stocks.

The ban means bump stocks can no longer be sold. Unfortunately, however, given the number of bump stocks in circulation, the Las Vegas massacre may not be the last time one is used by a mass murderer.

Meanwhile, there are YouTube videos on the internet and books available on Amazon that teach you how to make a semiautomatic gun, which fires one shot with each pull of the trigger, operate like a rapid-firing automatic weapon.

When are the president and Congress going to address the actual guns favored by mass murderers that, with or without bump stocks, can rain death on a crowd? They didn’t do anything after Sandy Hook. They didn’t do anything after Parkland.

It has taken more than a year for the promise Trump made after the Las Vegas massacre to come close to being fulfilled. The rule won’t actually take effect until March. The children and adults who have died in mass shootings deserve better than that. So do the families and friends they left behind.

A bump stocks ban may be something, but it’s not nearly enough.

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