Just a few minutes ago, President Donald Trump tweeted that the Department of Justice would be issuing a rule banning bump stocks. Bump stocks use the recoil of a semi-automatic gun to allow the weapon to be fired repeatedly and rapidly, simulating an automatic weapon.
Obama Administration legalized bump stocks. BAD IDEA. As I promised, today the Department of Justice will issue the rule banning BUMP STOCKS with a mandated comment period. We will BAN all devices that turn legal weapons into illegal machine guns.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 23, 2018
It’s not entirely clear that a new DOJ rule would survive legal challenges. Trump is correct that an Obama-era ruling from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) deemed bump stocks to be a “firearm part,” and therefore outside the scope of firearm regulation under federal law.
Like other issues we’ve seen with executive orders and agency actions taken by the Obama administration — DACA being a prime example — an executive action by the Trump administration may not really remedy the problem until Congress is able to pass legislation.
The law that passed recently in Florida in the wake of the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida banned the sale or possession of bump stocks, effective on October 1 of this year. That part of the law has been challenged in court in a new lawsuit filed by a group of gun owners last week.
As the Tampa Bay Times reported, the complaint seeks to certify a class action of all bump stock owners in Florida and seeks compensation for what they describe as a regulatory taking, depriving them of the “economically beneficial uses of their lawfully-owned property.”
The NRA previously filed a lawsuit against the new law, challenging the provisions imposing a three-day waiting period on sales of rifles and long guns and restricting the purchase of guns to those at least 21 years old. NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer told the Tampa Bay Times that they plan to file an additional legal challenge against the bump-stock ban after it goes into effect in October.
A strong argument that bump stock ban supporters have is the facts about how bump stocks operate. Responsible gun ownership and operation demand that a gun is used with the utmost care and intention. That’s why gun safety courses emphasize to assume a gun is always loaded and never point one at something you do not intend to shoot.
Prudent gun use means that if you are pulling the trigger, you are using your best efforts to aim carefully and hit only your intended target, whether you are hunting, engaging in target practice, or, heaven forbid, having to defend yourself or others against an assailant.
Bump stocks operate in contravention to that goal, allowing rapid fire of the gun at the great expense of accuracy, as well as often pushing the gun past its manufactured capacity, possibly resulting in the gun overheating and/or jamming.
In contrast, because both the United States and Florida Constitutions clearly recognize a right to bear arms, the 21-years-old age requirement imposed by the Florida law may have a tougher time surviving a court challenge. The government will have to offer a very convincing argument why a law-abiding adult should have this right restricted.
The press release on the Department of Justice website announced their intention to amend ATF regulations “clarifying that bump stocks fall within the definition of ‘machinegun’ under federal law, as such devices allow a shooter of a semiautomatic firearm to initiate a continuous firing cycle with a single pull of the trigger.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions also issued the following statement:
Since the day he took office, President Trump has had no higher priority than the safety of each and every American. That is why today the Department of Justice is publishing for public comment a proposed rulemaking that would define “machine-gun” to include bump stock-type devices under federal law—effectively banning them. After the senseless attack in Las Vegas, this proposed rule is a critical step in our effort to reduce the threat of gun violence that is in keeping with the Constitution and the laws passed by Congress. I look forward to working with the President’s School Safety Commission to identify other ways to keep our country and our children safe, and I thank the President for his courageous leadership on this issue.
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter: @rumpfshaker.