Trump Admin to Ban Bump Stocks…But Do They Have the Authority?

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According to a story from CNN this week, the Trump administration intends to roll out a new regulation banning the sale or possession of so-called bump stocks – the rifle modification used by the Las Vegas mass shooter last year to make his semi-automatic guns fire at near-automatic speed. A bump stock ban has been in the works for several months, having been recommended by the Justice Department and taken under review by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. CNN reports that the administration will officially implement the rule in the coming days.

Under the regs, Americans who currently own bump stock modification devices will have 90 days to either destroy their accessories or turn them in to law enforcement.

“Bump stocks turn semiautomatic guns into illegal machine guns. This final rule sends a clear message: Illegal guns have no place in a law-and-order society, and we will continue to vigorously enforce the law to keep these illegal weapons off the street,” said a senior Justice Department official.

The question is twofold: One, is what that DOJ official is saying actually true? And two, does the administration have the legal right to ban a firearm accessory like bump stocks without going through the legislature?

On the first point, the answer is clearly no. Bump stocks do cause a semi-automatic rifle to behave more like a machine gun in terms of rounds per second, but you cannot honestly say it “turns” an AR-15 into an M-16. Rather, it takes advantage of the semi-automatic firing mechanism itself to improve the speed of firing. We can argue whether or not such a modification should be legal, but the fact remains that it IS legal. And the executive branch cannot simply make it illegal without passing new legislation.

By going this route, the Trump administration is sure to anger people on both sides of the debate. For those who want to see the federal government take a hands-off approach to gun regulation, this sets a terrible precedent of the ATF going around specifically-worded legislation forbidding automatic firearms while permitting semi-automatic weapons. For those who want to see bump stocks banned, this regulation is unlikely to do the trick. It will surely be challenged in court before long, and it’s difficult to see how any judge can allow the rule to stand. The executive branch simply isn’t constitutionally permitted to change the law in this way.

If the White House wants to ban bump stocks, it needs to push Congress to pass a bill. Doing it this way is a no-go.