In the days since the Parkland school shooting, politicians of both parties have lined up in favor of a ban on bump stocks. Even many Republicans voters have given their assent to a ban on the rapid fire devices without much more than a whimper.
Two things make the matter of Republicans favoring gun control even more odd. First is that the proposed ban is an emotional reaction from a party that typically counsels against quick, emotional legislating after tragedies. Second, the Parkland massacre did not involve a bump stock.
A maxim of aviation is “don’t just do something, sit there.” It is very seldom that that any action needs to be taken so quickly that the consequences cannot be considered. In that spirit, let us take time out from the cacophony to look at the issue logically.
First, are bump stocks a public safety problem? Probably not. I am aware of only one crime committed with a bump stock, the October 2017 Las Vegas shooting spree. Most people had never heard of a bump stock six months ago.
Bump stocks may be rare in crimes because they decrease the accuracy of the weapon. Andrew Wickerham, who trains police and security guards, told the Christian Science Monitor, “I’ve always thought these bump stocks were just a novelty. They’re not that good, and they’re hard as hell to control.”
A bump stock ban would almost certainly be ineffective because a modestly handy gun owner can craft a bump stock from common parts cheaply and quickly. It took me about two minutes to find the instructions on the internet.
Second, if a bump stock ban is in the public interest, can President Trump simply order the DOJ to draw up regulations to implement it? For those of us concerned with the rule of law, the answer should be no.
In 2013, the assistant director of the ATF wrote to a member of Congress that bump stocks “are not subject to the provisions of federal firearms statutes” and were therefore legal. The letter stated that the devices did “not provide an automatic action — requiring instead continuous multiple inputs (trigger pulls) by the user for each successive shot” and were therefore not subject to the Federal Firearms Act.
“I relied on (ATF’s) firearms technical branch to provide subject-matter expertise,” Assistant Director Richard Marianos told the Albany Times Union last year, “but now after talking to other firearms experts and reflecting on my own career, anything that fires two or more rounds at the pull of a trigger is a machine gun, and should be regulated as such.” In other words, Marianos now believes that his own changed opinion carries more weight than the expert opinion of the ATF’s firearms technical branch.
Marianos’ change of heart is exactly why the rule of law is important. Laws should be objective and consistent, not subject to the changing whims of regulators. If the Federal Firearms Act did not apply to bump stocks in 2013, it doesn’t apply now just because the president wants to ban them.
If President Trump and the rest of the nation decides that a bump stock ban is what the people want, there is a constitutional process in place to make it so. This is How A Bill Becomes a Law.
President Trump is falling into the same trap of abusing executive authority that plagued President Obama. The difference now is that Republicans at least tried to hold President Obama accountable.
Some conservatives don’t believe that bump stocks are worth fighting for. They argue that no one needs a bump stock and that it would be a throwaway concession.
What President Trump and other pro-gun control Republicans don’t consider is the precedent that they are setting. A presidential bump stock ban would begin a pattern of emotionally regulating policies that would make no difference to the overall problem of mass shootings. It would reinforce the Obama-era model of presidents bypassing Congress to decree laws from the Oval Office. Further, the argument that “no one needs a bump stock” sounds suspiciously like the left’s argument for a total gun ban.
President Trump’s bump stock ban won’t reduce the crime rate or solve the problem of school shootings. It also won’t placate the anti-gun left. It will, however, force Republicans to live with themselves after violating their principles on multiple levels.
Originally published on The Resurgent