President Donald Trump says he’s signed a memo directing the Justice Department to propose regulations to “ban all devices” like bump stocks used in last year’s Las Vegas massacre.
The president is making the announcement to curb the use of the rapid-fire devices during a ceremony recognizing bravery by the nation’s public safety officers.
I’ve said before that we should treat bump stocks the same way we treat fully automatic machine guns, given that they achieve nearly the same rate of fire and exploit a loophole in the law. I’ve also said, though — and would like to reiterate — that Congress, not the executive branch, must do this:
Federal law defines “machinegun” as a “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.” Bump stocks do not allow the weapon to fire multiple times for each function of the trigger; they just help the user pull the trigger incredibly rapidly.
The Obama administration didn’t approve the sale of bump stocks because it loved the idea; it approved the sale of bump stocks because the law on the books didn’t give it any other option. Even after the Las Vegas shooting, per the New York Times, Justice Department officials were saying — both in private and in public — that it wasn’t possible to regulate bump stocks through the executive branch, and that Congress would have to get involved.
Congress makes laws, and must update those laws when loopholes become apparent. To its disgrace it has failed to do so in this case, but that does not justify the president’s decision here.