We knew it was coming. It was inevitable. The same old calls for additional gun control would be made. I get it. I hope to never turn on the news and see another story like Las Vegas. I understand the urge to “do something”. But that something needs to actually accomplish the goal, not serve as a means to another end. Doing “something” should include knowledge, thought, logic, and an understanding of how it will affect the citizens of this country. Once it became known the Las Vegas shooter had used “assault rifles” modified by something called a “bump fire stock”, the focus shifted and the knees began to jerk. Now, the usual suspects are yelling for them to be outlawed. Unfortunately, the usual suspects have allies on the other side of the aisle this time.
Before October 1, very few people had ever heard of a bump fire stock, much less knew what it does. This is probably because few people own them and one had never been used in commission of a crime until that day. I was aware of them, but I’m a gun guy. For those of you who might be unfamiliar with them, a bump fire stock is an accessory which replaces the regular stock and pistol grip on a semi-automatic rifle, such as an AR-15 or AK-47. The stock simply facilitates the bump fire technique, where the shooter pushes the rifle with the support hand while pulling with the shooting hand. After the first shot, the shooter leaves the finger lightly on the trigger, and uses the recoil impulse to “bump” the trigger, firing the gun again. This allows for a semi-automatic rifle to be fired more rapidly than normal. If used properly, a rate of fire similar to that of an automatic rifle can be achieved.
The NRA took the lead by calling for the BATFE to review the status of bump fire stocks and similar devices. This same agency approved the sale of them only a few years ago. It is the purview of the BATFE to classify items like bump fire stocks in terms of the National Firearms Act and the Gun Control Act. Their determination in 2010 was that bump fire stocks were accessories, not firearms as defined by either act. Therefore, they are legal for purchase without a background check or paying a tax. The wisdom of this decision is certainly debatable. In my opinion, they are good for little but burning through ammunition more quickly than usual. I have no problem with burning through ammunition quickly, but I’m not looking for a contrivance to make it easier!
Rather than allow the BATFE to review their decision, members of Congress have decided to introduce legislation to ban bump fire stocks and similar devices. In the House, Representatives Carlos Curbelo (R) of Florida and Seth Moulton (D) of Massachusetts introduced the so-called “Bump Fire Bill” (HR 3999), while (not surprisingly) Senator Diane I-don’t-know-a-damn-thing-about-guns-but-I-want-them-banned Feinstein introduced the companion “Automatic Gunfire Prevention Act” (S.1916) in the Senate. The important language in each bill is nearly identical, although the Senate bill does actually mention bump fire devices while the House version does not. Here is the meat of the House bill:
“…to manufacture, possess, or transfer any part or combination of parts that is designed and functions to increase the rate of fire of a semiautomatic rifle but does not convert the semiautomatic rifle into a machinegun…”
Seems innocuous enough, until you start asking yourself, “what does it mean?”. How legislation effects us lowly worker bees is largely dependent on how the law is interpreted. I submit to you this bill is open to some very dangerous interpretations. Let’s look at it more closely.
“…to manufacture, possess, or transfer…” I’ll start here. The key word in this sentence is “possess”. If these bills pass, it will be illegal for you to possess one of these items. The Senate version allows for the newly created criminals to turn them in within 180 days. What if someone decides not to hand theirs over? Are the police going to be allowed to go into the homes of people suspected of being in possession of such a device and search for it? I doubt it. So, exactly how will this be enforceable? What is the point of an unenforceable law? What will lawmakers do when no one gives up their legally-purchased property? Not much, would be my guess.
“…any part or combination of parts that is designed and functions to increase the rate of fire of a semiautomatic rifle…” Now we come to one of the real problems with this bill. This is where it becomes obvious the authors know nothing about what they’re trying to legislate. First of all, notice the term “bump fire” appears nowhere in this bill. The Senate version does actually use it, but not the House version. Bump Fire Bill. Right. I understand the language is intentionally vague, and vague laws are dangerous.
Time for a quiz. What is the rate of fire of a semiautomatic rifle? Anybody? You don’t know because it varies depending on the rifle, its state of repair, the ammunition, the caliber, the shooter, the weather, etc. There is no industry standard for semiautomatic rate of fire. It is a statistic which does not exist. How, then, do we define an increase in the rate of fire? If you put an aftermarket trigger in your rifle, you will probably be able to shoot it faster. I installed the excellent Apex trigger in my competition pistol, which is semiautomatic. I assure you, it increased the rate of fire of my pistol! Will it and similar aftermarket parts become illegal? To make my point crystal clear, take a few minutes and watch these videos of world-record shooter Jerry Miculek shooting an AR15 against a bump fire-equipped AR, a Tavor, and a .50 caliber Barrett. All are semiautomatic, even though you wouldn’t know it from these videos. Will Jerry’s trigger finger be illegal?
This bill was obviously written in haste (we have to do SOMETHING!) with very little thought. It was written by people with no technical knowledge and little understanding of the issues at hand, leaving far too much room for interpretation. I suspect, however, the Senate version is exactly what Feinstein wants. I have no doubt she sees this as an opening. If this were to pass, it would not be long before someone decided aftermarket triggers, which make it easier to shoot accurately by lightening the pull weight, “increased the rate of fire” and made them illegal. Then it would be compensators. They help manage recoil, which “increases the rate of fire”. Then someone would come up with an arbitrary rate of fire and any semiautomatic rifle capable of firing faster than that would be banned. It is indeed a slippery slope, the kind of thing for which the gun ban crowd has been waiting. Let’s not make it this easy for them. I doubt either of these will make it out of committee. Neither should. I urge you to contact your elected officials and tell them to bump the bump fire bills.