Last week I argued that Congress should take careful action to regulate “bump stocks,” devices that make a common semiautomatic rifle fire almost as quickly as a machine gun. This week I’m reminded that this is Congress we’re talking about.
Paul Ryan has said that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, not Congress, should be the one making the change. “I’d frankly like to know how it happened in the first place,” he added.
I explained here how it happened. The text of the law simply does not give the ATF the authority to regulate these devices. Believe me, if it were otherwise, the Obama ATF would not have certified the legality of at least two of these products.
Conservatives have long insisted, correctly, that Congress, not the executive branch, should write laws. They shouldn’t discard this principle as soon as making laws becomes difficult.
So what kind of bills do Ryan’s colleagues have in the works? Oh, there’s this. Yikes.
It’s a bipartisan effort that applies to “any part or combination of parts that is designed and functions to increase the rate of fire of a semiautomatic rifle but does not convert the semiautomatic rifle into a machinegun.” As Christian Britschgi notes at Reason, this is an insanely broad definition: “Binary triggers, which fire a round on both the pull and release of the trigger, would also likely be prohibited under this language, as would lighter triggers, and heavier recoil springs, both of which allow for a faster rate of fire.”
They need to reword this. One option they should explore is the concept of “deliberate engagement” (which made the rounds on “Gun Twitter” last week, though the user who came up with the idea seems to have deleted his tweets). The idea would be to regulate devices that help users fire multiple bullets without deliberately engaging the trigger each time.
There’s another problem with the bill too: It bans the possession of these devices (so long as they’ve traveled in interstate commerce) starting 90 days after the legislation is enacted, rather than just stopping new ones from entering the market and taking steps to monitor sales of the ones already in existence. This means people who bought bump stocks legally will now violate the law just by keeping them. This is completely unacceptable. Existing bump stocks need to be grandfathered, the way we did with fully automatic rifles in 1986 and even “assault weapons” under the Clinton ban in 1994.
What a disaster.