President Donald Trump's administration is set to ban bump stocks, which effectively let semiautomatic weapons mimic machine guns, in the coming days, according to reports from several new agencies.
In March, the administration introduced legislation that would ban the devices, essentially bringing bump stocks into a broader federal ban on machine guns. Per at least one CNN report, the new rule will force people who own bump stocks to turn them in or destroy the devices within 90 days.
The bump stock, originally only known to die hard gun enthusiasts, became nationally recognized follwing the Las Vegas shooting last year, in which a shooter used the devices to kill 58 people and injure hundreds more. And while the gunman still may have carried out the shooting without bump stocks, the device made the shooting much deadlier by turning his semiautomatic weapons into guns that closely simulated automatics.
Automatic weapons are what many Americans think of as machine guns. They can continuously fire off a stream of bullets if the user simply holds down the trigger, making them very deadly. Semiautomatic weapons, by contrast, fire a single bullet per trigger pull. The difference between an automatic and a semiautomatic effectively translates to firing hundreds of rounds a minute versus dozens or so in the same time frame.
Under federal law, fully automatic weapons are technically legal only if made before 1986, when Congress passed the Firearm Owners' Protection Act. So it's illegal to manufacture new automatic weapons for civilian use.
Bump stocks offered a way around the law by replacing the gun's shoulder rest, with a “support step” that covers the trigger opening. By holding the pistol grip with one hand and pushing forward on the barrel with the other, the shooter's finger comes in contact with the trigger. The recoil causes the gun to buck back and forth, “bumping” the trigger.
Technically, that means the finger is pulling the trigger for each round fired, keeping the weapon a legal semi-automatic.
Shortly after the Parkland, Florida, high school shooting in February, President Trump called on the Justice Department to ban bump stocks and similar devices (although the Parkland shooting did not involve a bump stock). The Justice Department's decision to do so came despite a long-standing reluctance that the Justice Department or Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) have the legal authority ban bump stocks and similar devices.
The new regulation will certinaly face challenges in court. But even if the ban survives, there's still the question of just how effective it will be.
The bump stock ban is among several proposals Trump has made to tighten gun control after the Florida shooting, such as improving reporting to the background check system and raising the legal age for purchasing assault-style weapons from 18 to 21. Even if all these efforts were successful, it's unclear just how much of an effect they would have — because they do little to quickly address the core problem behind US gun violence. Moreover, most gun control measures do little more than restrict the freedoms of lawful and responsible gun owners. The criminal element of gun violence is not affected nor persuaded by any gun control measure.