The Trump administration has just amended federal regulations concerning machine guns to effectively outlaw “bump-fire stocks” for average gun-owners.

The bump stock ban final rule, which was officially published 12/26/18, defines these bump-fire stocks as “machine guns.”  From that date, individuals must surrender or destroy their bump-fire stocks within 90 days (March 26, 2019) or become felons.

Thankfully, true second amendment organizations, like the Firearm Policy Coalition, are already fighting this rule.

Contrary to popular belief, it is perfectly legal (under federal law) for citizens to possess machine guns as long as the appropriate paperwork has been approved by the ATF and taxes have been paid. However, machine guns (or machine gun parts) manufactured after 1986 can only be possessed by Federal Firearm Licensees (FFLs) or government entities.

Therefore, one potential loop-hole to this new rule is to get an FFL.  However, it is unclear how/if this will work because the bump-stocks were not made as registered NFA firearms and the ATF seems to interpret some stuff on a whim.

It is important to note that bump-fire stocks are not “banned.” Instead, they will no longer be considered standard firearm parts (which are largely unregulated) and will now be defined as machine gun parts which are highly regulated. Because these bump-fire stocks were made after 1986, non-FFL citizens will not be able to possess them.

 

In this article, we’re going to discuss:

  • Bump-fire Stock Definition
  • Bump Stock Controversy
  • Machine Gun Regulations
  • Bump Stock Ban Final Rule
  • Potential Effects/Loop-holes

 

What is a Bump-Fire Stock?

A bump-fire stock is a device that can be added to a firearm which allows the shooter to shoot a semi-automatic firearm at a much faster rate-of-fire than could normally be attained.

Bump-fire stocks allow a semi-automatic firearm to move rearward inside the stock under recoil (it “slides” upon “firing”) and it allows the shooter to keep their trigger-finger stationary. If the shooter applies forward pressure on the firearm, then the firearm is allowed to slide forward after it recoils thereby pulling the trigger into the shooter’s stationary trigger-finger. This might look and sound like a machine gun, but it is still only one bullet per trigger pull.

 

 

Bump Stock Controversy

Bump-fire stocks were a point of contention after the Las Vegas mass shooting.  The murderer used a bump-fire stock to fire semi-automatic rifles into a crowd of people.

Many called for the ban of such devices (both pro and anti gun). In fact, the NRA specifically asked the Trump administration to increase regulations on bump-fire stocks. This call by the ATF to increase gun laws and restrict these devices has been very unpopular within the gun industry.

On the anti-gun/gun-control side, people argued that these devices circumvented the law and allowed machine gun-like capability while avoiding the controls and regulations surrounding machine guns. This is partly true.

Clearly, bump-fire stocks were designed to allow faster rates of fire than most could attain without these devices and they were obviously designed around the current laws concerning machine guns. However, they do not make a firearm into a machine gun – that is until this new rule, at least.

On the pro-gun side, people argued that the devices where merely parts and did not convert firearms to machine guns. Many thought that bump-fire stocks were stupid (me included), however, it would still be an impermissible infringement on our second amendment rights. I don’t have to own or like a firearm in order to understand that banning these pieces of plastic would be an infringement on our second amendment rights.

After the Las Vegas shooting, President Trump called for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to amend regulations to effectively ban bump-fire stocks. The subject of this article, the final rule amending these regulations, was published earlier this year and open for comment period.

 

Machine Gun Regulations

In order to understand the effect of reclassifying a piece of plastic as a machine gun, we first must address current machine gun regulations.

As of now (before this new rule goes into effect), a machine gun is a firearm that fires more than one bullet for every one operation of the trigger. The word “operation” is important (see below)

Typically, this means that one pull of a trigger resulting in one bullet fired is a standard firearm whereas multiple bullets being fired for that one trigger pull equals a machine gun.

There is a nuance in the current machine gun regulations.

The current machine gun regs refer to a “single operation” of the trigger and not a “single pull.” This allows some devices, like binary triggers, to allow a firearm to fire once on the trigger pull and also fire upon the release of the trigger as this is technically two “operations” of the trigger (pull and release).

At the simplest level, machine guns, and machine gun parts, made prior to 1986 can be possessed by individuals under federal law if the proper paperwork and taxes have been filed/paid. Modern machine guns (those made after 1986), however, can only be possessed by FFLs or government entities.

This is why many gun owners are now getting their FFL (even from their home). Not only would it allow them to be tempted from this bump stock ban, it can potentially exempt them from more gun regulations.

For a more complete explanation of machine gun laws, please see Who Can Own A Machine Gun?

 

Bump Stock Ban Final Rule

The DOJ, at the direction of President Trump, drafted rules to effectively amend federal laws concerning machine guns. Just typing that sentence makes my brain hurt – a federal agency (the Executive branch) may not change laws. Instead, Congress (the Legislative branch) must create or amend laws which are then approved by the President. Then, and only then, may a federal agency create rules or regulations to carry out that law.

This new rule is already being challenged on this procedural impossibility. However, assuming that President Trump is allowed to circumvent the lawmaking process and make rules by fiat (like a King), let’s explore what the rule would do.

Technically, the new rule does not specifically amend language of federal law. However, it does distinctly change agency regulations and definitions of terms to effectively change the meaning and scope of the law.

First, here’s the summary from the language of the rule. Next, we’ll explore what it means.

“The Department of Justice is amending the regulations of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) to clarify that bump-stock-type devices-meaning “bump fire” stocks, slide-fire devices, and devices with certain similar characteristics-are “machine guns” as defined by the National Firearms Act of 1934 and the Gun Control Act of 1968 because such devices allow a shooter of a semiautomatic firearm to initiate a continuous firing cycle with a single pull of the trigger.

Specifically, these devices convert an otherwise semiautomatic firearm into a machine gun by functioning as a self-acting or self-regulating mechanism that harnesses the recoil energy of the semiautomatic firearm in a manner that allows the trigger to reset and continue firing without additional physical manipulation of the trigger by the shooter.

Hence, a semiautomatic firearm to which a bump-stock-type device is attached is able to produce automatic fire with a single pull of the trigger.

With limited exceptions, the Gun Control Act, as amended, makes it unlawful for any person to transfer or possess a machine gun unless it was lawfully possessed prior to the effective date of the statute. The bump- stock-type devices covered by this final rule were not in existence prior to the effective date of the statute, and therefore will be prohibited when this rule becomes effective.

Consequently, under the final rule, current possessors of these devices will be required to destroy the devices or abandon them at an ATF office prior to the effective date of the rule.”

According to the new rule (again, assuming it is allowed to proceed), the current federal legal definition of a machine gun is modified (or, at least DOJ interpretation has changed) to include bump-fire stocks.

First, the DOJ is changing their definition of “single function of the trigger” to mean “a single pull of the trigger.”

Second, the DOJ is changing the definition of “automatically” to mean “as the result of a self-acting or self-regulating mechanism that allows the firing of multiple rounds through a single pull of the trigger.”

Third, the DOJ is “clarifying” that their definition of machine guns include “Bump-Stock_type Devices.”

“…The Department explained that when a shooter who has affixed a bump-stock-type device to a semiautomatic firearm pulls the trigger, that movement initiates a firing sequence that produces more than one shot. And that firing sequence is “automatic” because the
device harnesses the firearm’s recoil energy in a continuous back-and-forth cycle that allows the shooter to attain continuous firing after a single pull of the trigger, so long as the trigger finger remains stationary on the device’s ledge (as designed). Accordingly, these devices are included under the definition of “machine gun” and, therefore, come within the purview of the NFA….”

Fourth, the DOJ is amending their regulations (which they are allowed to do) to match their changes in definitions above. Regulations for the Gun Control Act of 1968, the National Firearms Act of 1934, and the Arms Export Control Act are all affected.

Upon the publishing of this rule, non-FFL citizens will have 90 days to either destroy their bump-fire stocks or turn them in to an ATF office. Failure to abide by this (without having an FFL) will be a felony and therefore remove all gun rights.

This means that a person, who merely possesses a piece of plastic and no firearms, would be a felon 90 days after this rule is published. This is a DRASTIC change in the law outside of the proper rule making process.

 

Potential Effects / Loopholes

In addition to banning bump-fire stocks for people that don’t have an FFL, this new rule will also likely affect devices like “binary triggers.”

Binary triggers are trigger mechanisms that exploited a technicality in the current (prior) definitions. Binary triggers fire once upon each trigger pull and then again on each trigger release.

These binary triggers would allow the firing of more than one round for each trigger pull, however, the law covered “operation” and not “pull” and each pull and release of a binary trigger were seen as distinct operations. Therefore, they allowed one fired round per operation and were not machine guns.

With this change, it is very likely that binary triggers will be considered machine gun parts and therefore illegal for non-FFLs to possess. After all, the one word in the law that allowed their use has now been redefined/modified. Despite this, the rule specifically says that binary triggers are not affected by the rule, but this is a logical inconsistency – they were only allowed because of the word “operation” versus “pull.”  If the definition is changed, then they are likely banned. If the definition is not changed, then bump stocks aren’t banned.

Right here is the problem with allowing the legal department of ATF take over for writing firearms determinations. The proper group to do this in the ATF, is the group that used to do it, the firearms tech guys… the ones that actually understand firearms.

As for a potential loophole, we’ve covered a possible one so far: becoming an FFL. It takes 60 days to get an FFL – this means that if someone where to start the process NOW, they could have an FFL before the 90 day timeline for this rule to go into effect. We are working with ATF currently to determine whether a previously possessed bump-stock could be registered as a machine gun by an FFL/SOT.