Bump stocks are devices that are attached to semi-automatic rifles that allow them to mimic a fully automatic weapon. They work by harnessing the gun’s recoil energy to quickly move the firearm back and forth. This bumps the shooter’s stationary finger right up against the trigger so it can be fired far faster. Some semi-automatic rifles equipped with bump stocks are capable of firing hundreds of rounds per minute.
They were first created to help people with disabilities to fire guns more easily. They were approved by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in 2010, and the government has estimated that more than half a million of them have been sold since then. The bureau maintained at the time that bump stocks did not convert semi-automatic firearms into fully automatic ones in a way that made them equivalent to machine guns.
However, bump stocks became a hot topic of conversation after the mass shooting at a concert in Las Vegas in 2017, where a gunman using semiautomatic rifles equipped with bump stocks killed 58 people. In response, President Trump instituted a ban on the devices.
Civilians are generally banned from owning machine guns that were manufactured after May 1986, and this includes any parts that can be used to convert a legal firearm into an illegal machine gun. A machine gun is defined in this case as a weapon that fires “automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger.”
The ATF later issued a rule in which they reinterpreted the terms “single function of the trigger” as well as “automatically” in order to ban bump stocks.
Gun Owners of America and other groups sued on the grounds that the rule violates the Fifth Amendment’s takings clause, the 14th Amendment’s right to due process and the Administrative Procedure Act. However, a federal judge denied their motion for a preliminary injunction in March 2019.
It was then brought before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, who has ruled in their favor, saying a lower court should have granted their request for a preliminary injunction against the rule because it is likely they will be able to prove the bump stock ban is indeed unlawful.
The court did not agree with the ATF’s interpretation of the law, saying that “single function of the trigger” refers to the trigger’s mechanical process – its depression, release and resetting. A bump stock cannot, therefore, be considered a machine gun because it does not allow a semiautomatic firearm to fire more than one shot every time the trigger passes through the cycle. The shooter still has to pull the trigger multiple times to fire, which means it is not really akin to a machine gun.
In the panel's majority opinion, Senior U.S. Circuit Judge Alice Batchelder wrote: “A bump stock may change how the pull of the trigger is accomplished, but it does not change the fact that the semiautomatic firearm shoots only one shot for each pull of the trigger. With or without a bump stock, a semiautomatic firearm is capable of firing only a single shot for each pull of the trigger.”
Under the federal bump stock ban, existing owners are not allowed to keep their bump stocks. Instead, they must destroy them or turn them over to authorities, although they are not being offered any compensation for them. Violators face as much as 10 years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines. Nevertheless, less than one percent of the bump stocks in circulation have been surrendered so far.
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