President Donald Trump’s recent calls to ban bump stock accessories for semi-automatic weapons is actually an insignificant step toward gun reform,and could very well have no real impact on preventing mass shootings.
A bump stock is an accessory to a semi-automatic weapon that makes it shoot bullets faster, much like an automatic weapon would. Automatic weapons are largely banned in the U.S. (with limited exceptions), but the accessories to modify semi-automatic weapons are not as regulated.
Trump has signaled to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and others in his administration his desire to see the accessory taken off the shelves. The president even signed a memorandum requesting the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to complete a review on the accessory and enact rules “banning all devices that turn legal weapons into machine guns.”
But questions abound whether the Trump administration can rightly define bump stocks as a machine gun. Efforts to do as much failed when the ATF tried to do the same thing eight years ago.
“We could not find a way to classify it as a machine gun,” former ATF technical expert Rick Vasquez explained to The Trace.
It’s more likely that Congress will have to make that definition rather than any executive agency. But a bill that would have banned the accessory failed to muster enough support in Congress last year, and it died without receiving an up-or-down vote.
Then there’s the question of whether banning the accessory would be much of a victory at all. Although they were used by gunman Stephen Paddock during the Las Vegas shooting that took 58 lives and wounded hundreds more last fall, bump stocks are rarely used in most shooting events that have occurred. The shooting that took place at a high school in Parkland, Florida, last week, where 17 individuals were killed, didn’t include the device.
Gun reform advocates would likely celebrate banning the accessory one way or another. But it would be a “tip-toe” movement rather than a real step forward to prevent gun violence. The real problem is the accessibility to military-style weapons — as history has shown, assault weapons bans work much better than people give them credit for. It’s time that Republicans, and the president himself, recognize as much.
Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters, Jonathan Ernst