We warned about the inherent danger of waving the regulatory wand when Trump first started talking about banning bump stocks…a product that had already been declared legal by the Obama-era ATF.
Now, inevitably, we have to deal with this. And it probably won’t be the last time this argument is made.
A rifle equipped with a bump stock does not automatically fire more than one shot for each function of the trigger. It fires one round each time the trigger is activated, and the process is not automatic, since the shooter has to maintain forward pressure on the weapon and keep his finger in position.
Notwithstanding that reality, Donald Trump, in response to the Las Vegas massacre, decided he could ban bump stocks by administrative fiat—the approach favored by the National Rifle Association. He instructed the Justice Department, which includes the ATF, to come up with a rationale, which required defining “function of the trigger” as “pull of the trigger,” defining a trigger pull so as to exclude what happens during bump firing, and treating the shooter as part of the rifle mechanism.
The Nevada lawsuit, which was filed in the District Court of Clark County, omits that part of the story, since the fact that the ATF repeatedly said bump stocks were legal before reversing itself under Trump’s orders after the Las Vegas attack weakens the case that manufacturers knew before then that they were breaking the law by producing guns that could be equipped with bump stocks. Instead the plaintiffs argue that manufacturers were aware that their guns were compatible with bump stocks and should have recognized that meant they could be readily converted into machine guns, even though the ATF had concluded otherwise.
In light of the bureaucratic history that the lawsuit glides over, that argument is highly dubious. But going forward, if you accept the Trump administration’s view of bump stocks, it is at least superficially plausible to maintain that AR-15s are now illegal, since they can be readily equipped with such accessories. In an interview with The New York Times, Lawrence Keane, general counsel for the gun industry’s National Shooting Sports Foundation, noted that an AR-15 is “customizable, but the underlying semiautomatic action is not altered.” That’s true, but it does not matter under the Trump administration’s unilateral redefinition of machine guns.