The Trump administration announced final steps Tuesday to ban “bump stock” add-ons that help rifles mimic machine guns, saying that even current owners of the devices will either have to hand them in to the government or destroy them.
It is a major shift from other gun control changes, which usually don’t apply to previous purchases.
It also marks a shift away from the administration’s staunch support for gun rights.
Also Tuesday, a presidential school safety commission report touted “red flag” laws opposed by many conservatives that are intended to temporarily suspend the gun rights of dangerous people.
Gun rights groups have vowed to sue, saying the bump stock rules amount to an overreach of executive power.
But the Trump administration has been intent on taking steps since the October 2017 shooting in Las Vegas, where a gunman armed with bump stock devices sprayed 1,100 rounds of ammunition on a music festival, killing 58 people.
The Justice Department said the new rule, which it will soon publish, will officially define bump stocks as equivalent to “machine guns” under federal regulations.
That kicks off a 90-day clock after which it will be “essentially unlawful” to possess such a device, a senior Justice Department official told reporters.
“We anticipate that most owners will want to be in compliance with the law,” the official said.
Purchase or ownership of machine guns has been severely restricted for decades, but some firearms enthusiasts have turned to bump stock devices to allow semi-automatic weapons to simulate the same rate of fire.
The Bush administration ruled in 2006 that one type of device, the Akins Accelerator, was illegal. But in 10 follow-up rulings over the next decade, spanning the Obama administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives concluded that other devices fell outside the definition of machine guns, based on a complex analysis of rounds fired per trigger pull.
The Trump administration took a “fresh look” at the issue after the Las Vegas shooting, an official said.
“It was that review of law, technical and practical, which we determined that these devices do operate as machine guns,” the official said. “When you pull the trigger once, the bump stock harnesses the recoil energy … and allows continuous firing until you release on the trigger, just as a normal machine gun operates with different mechanical functions.”
Gun rights groups, questioning the administration’s reversal, vowed to sue.
“Agencies are not free to rewrite laws under the guise of ‘interpretation’ of a statute, especially where the law’s meaning is clear,” said Erich Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America.
Mr. Pratt said an estimated half-million bump stock owners would be affected and that new regulations could pave the way toward a backdoor ban on popular semi-automatic rifles such as the AR-15.
Gun control advocates, though, said the move was overdue.
“The only way to ensure that bump stocks and similar devices are properly regulated is for Congress to take action,” said Kris Brown, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “We will continue to call on congressional leaders to do just that, to once and for all classify bump stocks as illegal machine guns.”
Democrats on Capitol Hill also praised the move but said Congress still needs to act, citing the pending lawsuits and past rulings from ATF.
“Legislation is necessary to ensure a ban is implemented and not tied up in court,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat. She said she would reintroduce legislation to ban the devices next year.
Just before the Justice Department announcement, the White House released a set of recommendations for school safety.
One key proposal was endorsing “red flag” or “extreme risk” laws that would temporarily suspend the gun rights of someone judged to be a danger to themselves or others.
“When even the Trump administration endorses this proposal, there should be no impediment to getting the bipartisan bill I’ve written with Sen. [Lindsey] Graham passed by Congress and signed into law,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat.
Authorities say Nikolas Cruz, accused of fatally shooting 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February, expressed warning signs before the rampage and indicated that he wanted to hurt people.
Gun rights groups, though, have said such “red flag” laws can amount to gun confiscation without due process.
The National Rifle Association applauded the report’s broader recommendations, saying they would go a long way toward school safety.
The group appreciates Mr. Trump’s support for “extreme risk” laws, “provided they include strong due process protections, require mental health [treatment] and include penalties against those who file frivolous charges to harass law-abiding citizens,” said Chris Cox, who heads the NRA’s legislative lobbying arm.
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