The Corner

Politics & Policy

Will the ATF Pretend Bump Stocks Are Already Illegal?

That’s a big possibility raised by a new press release:

The Department of Justice and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) announced today that it has begun the process of promulgating a federal regulation interpreting the definition of “machinegun” under federal law to clarify whether certain bump stock devices fall within that definition.

 . . . [Attorney General Jeff Sessions:] “Today we begin the process of determining whether or not bump stocks are covered by this prohibition. We will go through the regulatory process that is required by law and we will be attentive to input from the public . . . ”

ATF has taken the initial step in this regulatory process by drafting an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) and submitting it to the Office of Management and Budget. The ANPRM will provide the public and industry the opportunity to submit formal comments to ATF about bump stocks to inform ATF’s decision regarding further steps in the rulemaking process. The federal rulemaking process follows procedures required by the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). ATF and the Department will proceed in accordance with this process as quickly as possible.

This is bad. I support treating bump stocks like machine guns, but this absolutely has to be done through Congress, not the ATF. As I explained previously:

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 allowed bump stocks, presumably not because it thought they were great, but because existing law doesn’t cover them. And after Las Vegas, the ATF reportedly encouraged Congress to handle the matter itself. I am very curious what changed.

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