/Federal bump stock ban could make you a criminal. What you need to know

Federal bump stock ban could make you a criminal. What you need to know


An Arizona gun manufacturer demonstrates the use of a rifle equipped with a “bump stock.” Thomas Hawthorne/azcentral.com

Opinion: A federal ban on bump stocks will force hundreds of thousands of owners to make some uncomfortable decisions.

If you own a bump stock, you could soon become a felon.

The Justice Department has effectively banned them by reclassifying them as machine guns. Which means anyone who owns one must either destroy or surrender the device before March 26.

And if you don’t, congratulations. You’re now breaking federal firearms law.

How did we get here?

After Las Vegas, where a madman used a bump stock during his shooting spree that killed dozens and injured hundreds, there was a nationwide push to get rid of the things.

President Trump declared that he would ban them without congressional action and directed the Justice Department to figure out how.

Their quick and dirty solution was to reclassify bump stocks as machine guns using an existing law: The National Firearms Act of 1934. That means no new bump stocks can be manufactured.

And all the existing bump stocks – as many as 520,000, according to department estimates – are now illegal for civilians to own.

Doesn’t matter if you bought it legally. If you keep it in working order beyond the deadline published in the federal register, you’re now a felon.

How did the rule change?

Machine guns have long been defined as “any 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.”

Gun-rights advocates argued vehemently during the rule’s comment period that bump stocks don’t turn semi-automatic rifles into machine guns. They allow the firearm to slide back and forth under pressure from the shooter, bumping the trigger against the shooter’s finger to rapidly speed fire.

MORE: Here’s the difference a bump stock makes when firing a rifle

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And no, that doesn’t change the fact that the rifle still shoots one projectile every time the trigger moves. 

That’s why the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has said for years that most bump stocks are not subject to the NFA Act. 

Gun groups are suing

But the Justice Department now says that was a mistake. It performs verbal gymnastics on words like “automatically” and “trigger pull” to back up its claims that bump stocks really do turn semi-automatic rifles into full-auto ones and that – yes, seriously – the shooter’s finger and arm are part of the mechanism that makes this miraculous change.

Even Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who has long pressed for more gun control, noted in an op-ed that “(t)he administration’s position hinges on a dubious analysis claiming that bumping the trigger is not the same as pulling it.”

As expected, gun groups are challenging the rule in court. One of the lawsuits was rejected, but groups have vowed to appeal.

Because to them, this isn’t just a matter of saving bump stocks, which many consider to be an impractical novelty. It’s about minimizing what else could be outlawed by these new interpretations.

What does that mean for me?

In the meantime, bump stock owners have some uncomfortable decisions to make.

The department won’t pay you for destroying your bump stock, though it estimates the loss of property will cost more than $100 million. It notes that any such appropriation would have to be made by Congress (as if that’s going to happen).

You could hold off on the hatchet and wait to see how the lawsuits shake out. Or ignore all of this and keep your bump stock hidden in a closet. 

But remember: Nothing is grandfathered. Either you comply or potentially face a felony if you’re caught with what you purchased legally.

The ATF suggests you surrender your bump stock at one of its offices, so they can destroy it. Or you can do the deed yourself (I’m not kidding: There are detailed directions on its website for making your bump stock inoperable. Heaven forbid you try to destroy the thing and still go to prison for doing it incorrectly).

That’s not fair, you say?

Well, fair is rarely part of the gun debate.

Reach Allhands at joanna.allhands@arizonarepublic.com.



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