Federal bump stock ban starts Tuesday

A federal ban on bump stocks — attachments that essentially allow shooters to fire semiautomatic rifles continuously with one pull of the trigger — begins Tuesday.

The US Justice Department issued the rule in December, deciding that existing prohibitions against fully automatic weapons also covered bump stocks.

Owners were given 90 days to turn in or destroy them, and that period ends Tuesday.

Bump stocks came under scrutiny after the October 2017 massacre in Las Vegas. Stephen Paddock opened fire from his hotel suite onto outdoor concertgoers with rifles fitted with bump stocks, killing 58 people and wounding hundreds of others.

Various groups have challenged the ban in court, but for now, it is in effect.

Here’s what to know about bump stocks, the ban and what owners need to do:

What bump stocks are

First, consider the difference between legal semiautomatic weapons and banned fully automatic weapons.

With a semiautomatic weapon, one round is fired for each single pull of the trigger, and the weapon reloads itself as long as ammunition remains.

With a fully automatic weapon, once the trigger is pulled and held, the weapon will keep firing until the ammunition is gone or the trigger is released.

Bump stocks are meant to replace the standard stock and grip of a semiautomatic rifle. They attach to a rifle’s receiver, or frame.

The bump stock uses recoil effects to bounce the rifle off the shooter’s shoulder and bump the trigger back into the trigger finger. This speeds up what the rate of fire would have been without the bump stock. It effectively mimics fully automatic gunfire.

As the Justice Department now puts it: Bump stocks allow “the trigger to reset and continue firing without additional physical manipulation of the trigger by the shooter.”

But back in 2010, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives determined that bump stocks were merely accessories, or firearms parts — and therefore not regulated as a firearm.

How the ban came about

Soon after the Las Vegas shooting, President Donald Trump vowed to outlaw bump stocks.

But some lawmakers and gun lobbyists resisted, making new legislation unlikely. That made a regulatory change the only realistic path to accomplishing Trump’s goal.

At his direction, the Justice Department in March 2018 proposed a rule clarifying that bump stocks were not merely parts but instead were “machine guns” — what the federal government calls fully automatic weapons — as defined by existing law.

Why? Because “such devices allow a shooter of a semiautomatic firearm to initiate a continuous firing cycle with a single pull of the trigger,” similar to automatic rifles, the department said.

Defining bump stocks as machine guns effectively bans them. Civilian possession of fully automatic weapons was outlawed in 1986 except for those already lawfully in people’s ownership.

After considering public comments about the proposal, the department finalized and published the rule on December 26.

And there is no grandfather clause for bump stocks, the new rule says, because they weren’t manufactured until well after the 1986 law went into effect.

Some gun-owner advocacy groups sued the Justice Department, asking federal courts to prevent the ban. In one case, a judge in February rejected plaintiffs’ arguments that the Justice Department violated procedural requirements, and that the official who signed the rule, Matthew Whitaker, then the acting US attorney general, did not have authority to do so.

The Supreme Court received two emergency appeals Monday night. In one of the cases, which had been before the US Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Chief Justice John Roberts declined an emergency request to put the ban on hold.

In another case out of the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals, Gun Owners of America and other individuals are asking for a stay, arguing the final rule “reverses well over a decade of consistent ATF classification of bump stocks as unregulated firearm accessories.” Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who has jurisdiction over the 6th Circuit, asked the Trump administration for a response by 4 p.m. Tuesday.

Who the ban affects

Most immediately, people who own, make or sell them.

The Justice Department said as many as seven US bump stock manufacturers have operated since 2010, but only one remained by late 2018. Two businesses stopped making them after the rule was proposed in March 2018 “due to their inability to obtain liability insurance,” the department said.

Slide Fire Solutions, the Texas company that invented bump stocks, said it shut down its online store in June.

The Justice Department said it doesn’t know how many people own bump stocks, but it estimates that up to 520,000 devices were sold.

What owners need to do

The Justice Department said owners should do one of two things by Tuesday: Destroy the devices, or drop them off at an ATF field office.

How do you destroy a bump stock? The ATF suggests cutting, crushing, melting or shredding it — and it offers an online how-to guide.

Washington state offered a buyback alternative for its residents. On Monday, people can surrender up to five bump stocks at Washington State Patrol offices in exchange for $150 per device.

These are the penalties owners face if they don’t comply

Possession of a bump stock, like possession of a machine gun, will be punishable by fines and up to 10 years in prison.