Momentum For A Law Banning Bump Stocks Has Slowed
Notwithstanding what seemed like universal support for the idea of banning so-called “bump stocks,” add-ons to semi-automatic weapons that allow someone to essentially simulate a fully automatic weapon, that arose in the wake of the mass shooting last month in Las Vegas, The New York Times notes that efforts to come up with a legislative solution seem to be stymied:
WASHINGTON — Remember bump stocks?
The previously obscure gun conversion kits, which turn semiautomatic rifles into weapons capable of firing long, deadly bursts, were the bane of the Capitol a month ago, after a gunman used the devices to kill 58 people and wound hundreds of others in Las Vegas. Lawmakers in both parties quickly vowed to ban them. Even the National Rifle Association appeared to endorse restrictions.
But the proposed ban on bump stocks, once hailed as a modest step toward bipartisan compromise on gun safety, may be turning into a cautionary tale of how energetic intentions in the wake of mass shootings can dissipate quickly. As attentions moved elsewhere, the N.R.A. turned against action, and Republican lawmakers decided the devices would be someone else’s problem: the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or A.T.F.
“Right now everyone’s in a holding pattern, because some people around here have hope that A.T.F. will bail us out,” said Representative Carlos Curbelo, Republican of Florida, who has co-sponsored a bipartisan measure to ban bump stocks.
And now, with another mass shooting, this one in Texas, capturing the nation’s lamentations, Congress is moving on to yet another gun issue, the failure of the government’s computerized background check system to stop firearms purchases by killers who should have been flagged. On Tuesday, Senators Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, and Martin Heinrich, Democrat of New Mexico, said they would introduce legislation to bolster the reporting of domestic violence acts to the background check system.
For opponents of congressional action. the A.T.F. has proved to be a convenient foil. The agency, which regulates firearms, has said it has no jurisdiction over the gun conversion kits because bump stocks are, in fact, not guns. Yet Speaker Paul D. Ryan said he believes “a regulatory fix,” rather than legislation, is the correct way to take bump stocks off the market. That stand has, for now, stalled legislation until Congress hears from bureau officials.
That could happen as soon as next week.
Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, announced Monday night that the committee will convene a hearing on bump stocks on Tuesday. The witness list has not been made public, but bureau officials are expected to testify.
The desire to ban bump stocks still exists on Capitol Hill, even if it is quieter. Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, has proposed legislation banning bump stocks and has more than three dozen co-sponsors, all Democrats.
At least two Republicans, Senators John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said they would be open to banning the devices, depending on what bureau officials say at next week’s hearing.
“If you believe that automatic weapons should be highly regulated and limited, then why would you be against banning a device that makes a gun an automatic weapon?” Mr. Graham said.
But Congress will probablyhave to take action if lawmakers want bump stocks off the market. The A.T.F. has deemed bump stocks “a firearm part” not subject to regulation under federal laws that, since the 1930s, have sharply limited the manufacture and possession of fully automatic weapons.
The N.R.A. was actually the first to put the onus on the A.T.F. In a statement after the Las Vegas shooting, the powerful gun lobby said the bureau should revisit the bump stock issue, and “immediately review whether these devices comply with federal law.” That was hailed by some as a change for the group, but in fact, the N.R.A. never embraced a ban.
In a recent interview on YouTube with James Yeager, a Tennessee gun enthusiast who runs a firearms training business, the association’s chief lobbyist, Chris Cox, bragged about its head fake.
“The day before we put out that statement there were enough votes in the House of Representatives, the pro-gun Republican House of Representatives, to pass a Feinstein-Curbelo type of bill,” Mr. Cox told Mr. Yeager. He went on: “The truth is we needed to slow down the process and have an educated conversation.”
What the N.R.A. calls an educated conversation, gun safety advocates regard as slow-walking.
“I don’t think the N.R.A. has killed it, but they have certainly put the brakes on,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, a national advocacy group. “Their original statement was a wink and a nod by saying that it should be something that A.T.F. looked at. They knew very well that actually that was an effort to divert attention from legislation.”
As I noted in a post in the immediate aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting, the arguments in favor of banning bump stocks appear to be self-evident. They are a modification to otherwise legal weapons that allow users to bypass the laws that ban converting semi-automatic weapons into fully automatic weapons and the laws that heavily regulate the possession and use of fully automatic weapons to the point where ownership is impractical for the average American. At least initially, it appeared that there was strong support for such a ban, even among Republicans, and polling showed that the American public as a whole was very supportive of the idea of banning these add-ons as well as other gun control measures. Almost as quickly as the idea was proposed, though, momentum for a ban began to wane as Republicans shifted their rhetoric to adopt the argument advanced by the National Rifle Association that legislative action was unnecessary because the matter could be taken care of via a regulatory change by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. So far, though, there’s been absolutely no indication that the BATF is inclined to act on the matter and, as the article above indicates, it now seems apparent that the argument in favor of a regulatory fix was little more than a ruse by the NRA to block momentum for legislation on the issue, a gambit that appears to have succeeded.
As the article quoted above notes, there are some legislators in the House and the Senate who are intent on moving forward with a bill that would ban bump stocks notwithstanding this stalled momentum. Whether they can move forward without support from the leadership in the House and Senate, though, is unclear. In the House, getting legislation to the floor without support from the leadership would require proponents to circulate a Discharge Petition forcing a vote on the measure that would then require signatures from at least 218 members of the House of Representatives to be successful. Even if every Democrat in the House signed the petition, which they probably would, they would still need at least 24 Republicans to join them. If that succeeded, then they’d be able to get a vote on the measure. In the Senate, the process is much more complicated, and as such, it is virtually impossible to get legislation not supported by the leadership to the floor except, perhaps, as an Amendment to some other piece of legislation that would then require a majority to support to proceed forward. This is why there are very few instances of such legislation actually getting adopted into law.
Perhaps there will be a change of heart and leadership will allow a bill to proceed forward in both chambers. As things stand now, though, it appears that momentum has stalled and nothing will be done.