Cry for ‘Bump Stock’ Reform Cools; Can ATF Do It?

After the Las Vegas concert massacre, there was a bipartisan cry to ban the devices that turn semiautomatic rifles into automatic ones. Now Republicans and the National Rifle Association want the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to take action, but the agency says it can’t do so.

Bump stocks, the kits that turn semiautomatic rifles into weapons capable of firing long, deadly bursts, were much discussed a month ago, after a gunman used the devices to kill 58 people and wound hundreds of others in Las Vegas. Some legislators in both parties quickly vowed to ban them. Even the National Rifle Association appeared to endorse restrictions. The proposed ban “may be turning into a cautionary tale of how energetic intentions in the wake of mass shootings can dissipate quickly,” the New York Times reports. The NRA turned against action, and Republicans decided the devices would be someone else’s problem: the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). “Right now everyone’s in a holding pattern, because some people around here have hope that ATF will bail us out,” said Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), who has co-sponsored a bipartisan measure to ban bump stocks.

After the Texas mass shooting, Congress is moving to another gun issue, the failure of the government’s computerized background check system to stop firearms purchases by killers who should have been flagged. For opponents of congressional action. ATF has proved to be a convenient foil. The agency has said it has no jurisdiction over the gun conversion kits because bump stocks are not guns. Yet House Speaker Paul 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. The agency is expected to testify next Tuesday to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Congress will probably have to take action if lawmakers want bump stocks off the market. ATF has deemed bump stocks “a firearm part” not subject to regulation under laws that, since the 1930s, have sharply limited the manufacture and possession of fully automatic weapons.