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Los Angeles Times: Kudos to Trump for banning bump stocks

December 20, 2018

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said Tuesday that it had finalized a rule reclassifying so-called bump stocks — the devices that can make a semiautomatic rifle fire nearly as quickly a fully automatic weapon — as machine guns, which makes it illegal to manufacture, sell or possess them. The agency said a year ago it had the authority to reclassify the devices, and President Trump — in the wake of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting — directed the ATF to speed up the process. Tuesday’s announcement — a rare bit of welcome news from the Trump administration — makes it official; White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that owners of the conversion devices will have until March 21 to destroy them or turn them in to the ATF.

This is a good step. Unfortunately, it’s all but certain to be challenged in the courts, and it’s on shaky legal ground because of the way the new rule evolved. The Obama administration determined that because bump stocks have “no automatically functioning mechanical parts and (perform) no automated mechanical functions when installed,” they did not fit the definition of a machine gun in federal law, which meant the ATF lacked the authority to regulate them. Tuesday’s announcement, by contrast, hinges not on the technical specifications, but on the functionality. In essence, if it fires like a machine gun, it’s a machine gun. Cue the lawyers.

We hope the administration prevails in whatever challenges emerge, but the sure-fire way to resolve this would be for Congress to legislate bump stocks and related gadgets out of existence. Such devices serve no function other than to evade the strict congressional limit on machine guns by, as the ATF said, harnessing “the recoil energy of the semiautomatic firearm in a manner that allows the trigger to reset and continue firing” without the shooter having to pull the trigger for each shot.

A mass shooter in Las Vegas used bump stocks affixed to semiautomatic rifles to fire more than 1,000 rounds in a matter of minutes from a 32nd-floor suite of the Mandalay Bay Hotel into a crowd of some 20,000 people, killing 58 concertgoers and injuring hundreds of others. It was the largest single mass shooting in the modern era, drawing attention to bump stocks and sparking outraged demands by many that the devices be banned.

— Los Angeles Times

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