In the year since the tragic shooting in Las Vegas, the gun safety movement has become more organized. Meaningful progress to get bump stocks off the streets shows how the so-called “enthusiasm gap” has closed—with 11 states acting to prohibit these devices and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) preparing to declare they are illegal under federal law. Meanwhile, eight states have passed Red Flag Laws and ten have passed domestic violence laws. And gun safety advocates and survivors are participating in the policy making process at levels matching the support for gun safety policies.
On October 1, 2017, a shooter killed 58 people at a country music concert in Las Vegas.
- By using several AR-type rifles with attached bump stock accessories, the shooter was able to effectively convert his rifles into machine guns. He fired over one thousand rounds of ammunition in minutes, killing 58 people and injuring hundreds more.
Fully automatic weapons, more commonly known as machine guns, are highly regulated under federal law.
- Federal law tightly regulates machine guns—prohibiting manufacture for civilian use (as of 1986) and requiring existing guns be registered with ATF.26 U.S.C. § 5845; 18 U.S.C. § 922(o).
- To purchase a machine gun, a person must pass an investigation that includes a background check and notification to law enforcement.See generally, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, “National Firearms Act Handbook,” available at: https://www.atf.gov/firearms/docs/atf-national-firearms-act-handbook-chapter-2/download.
The shooting in Las Vegas brought new attention to bump stocks, one type of widely available “conversion device” that allows for semiautomatic firearms to be effectively converted into machine guns.
- A “bump stock” is a device that harnesses the recoil of a semiautomatic firearm to fire several shots in succession, mimicking automatic fire. One distributor, Slide Fire Solutions, advertised that their device enabled a shooter to fire 100 rounds in 7 seconds.Slate, “This Single Legal Add-On Lets an AR-15 Fire 900 Rounds Per Minute,” Jan 7, 2013, available at: https://every.tw/2Qf6BVE.
In the last year, states across the country passed laws that prohibit bump stocks.
- In November, Massachusetts became the first state after Las Vegas to pass a law barring bump stocks. Since then, ten more states – California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Maryland, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington – have followed suit.Maryland “grandfathers” existing bump stocks, allowing people to keep bump stocks they possessed before the law came into effect. Pew, “Hawaii Bans Bump Stocks,” July 10, 2018, available at https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2018/07/10/hawaii-bans-bump-stocks; SF Gate, “California tightens rules for concealed weapons, bump stocks,” Sept. 26, 2018, available at https://www.sfgate.com/news/crime/article/California-tightens-rules-for-concealed-weapons-13261302.php.
- Four of the eleven bills regulating bump stocks have been signed by Republican governors (in Massachusetts, Florida, Maryland, and Vermont).
Since the shooting in Las Vegas, the ATF has taken steps to prohibit the manufacture, sale, and possession of bump stocks through a rule that would change the National Firearms Act definition of “machine gun” to clearly be inclusive of bump stock type devices.
- Within days of the shooting, a bipartisan group of federal legislators filed legislation to ban bump stocks.CNN, “Republican-led bill on bump stocks expected to be introduced Thursday in House,’” Oct. 5, 2017, available at https://www.cnn.com/2017/10/05/politics/paul-ryan-bump-stocks-gun-control/index.html.
- In December, ATF published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, with a public comment period that ended Jan. 25, for which it received almost 36,000 comments.https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2017/12/26/2017-27898/application-of-the-definition-of-machinegun-to-bump-fire-stocks-and-other-similar-devices.
- On February 20, President Trump released a memorandum directing the Department of Justice to complete the review of the comments received, and to propose a notice and comment for a final rule on as expeditious a schedule as possible.https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/presidential-memorandum-application-definition-machinegun-bump-fire-stocks-similar-devices/.
- On March 23, ATF posted a proposed a final rule, with a public comment period that ran through June 27, for which it received nearly 100,000 comments.https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=ATF-2018-0002. ATF is in the process of reviewing the comments and finalizing the rule.
Since the shooting in Las Vegas, the gun safety movement organized a tremendous amount of grassroots energy and harnessed it to participate in the public policy making process.
- As the gun safety movement organized around bump stocks, the so-called “enthusiasm gap” closed.
- In the initial phase of the rulemaking process, an analysis showed eighty-five percent of the over 32,000 comments submitted were opposed to the regulation of bump stocks.The Trace, The ATF Received 36,00 Comments on Bump Stocks. They’re Overwhelmingly Anti-Regulation,” Feb. 6, 2018, available at https://www.thetrace.org/rounds/atf-bump-stock-regulation-comments-analysis/.
- An analysis of the nearly 100,000 comments ATF received in the second phase of the rulemaking showed that more than seventy-two percent of the comments supported regulating bump stocks.The Trace, In Big Reversal, Supporters of Regulating Bump Stocks Now Outnumber Opponents 3 to 1 in Comments to ATF,” July 19, 2018, available at https://www.thetrace.org/2018/07/bump-stock-regulation-atf-public-comment/.
- The support for regulating bump stocks in the final rule comments matches polls that show over seventy-five percent of Americans in favor of a prohibition of bump stock devices.See generally, The Hill, “Poll: 82 percent support a ban on bump stocks,” Oct. 13, 2017, available at https://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/355376-poll-82-support-a-ban-on-bump-stocks; Politico, “Gun control support surges in polls,” Feb. 28, 2018, available at https://www.politico.com/story/2018/02/28/gun-control-polling-parkland-430099.
Bump stock advocacy is just one example of how the gun safety movement has gained momentum across the country over the past year. Indeed, gun safety bills have been passing in red and blue states alike.
- In 2018 alone, eight states passed Red Flag Laws, which enable law enforcement and/or family to seek a court order that bars a person from possessing guns if they pose a danger to self or others.DE, FL, IL, MD, MA, NJ, RI, VT These states joined five others that already had the laws in place.
- New gun laws to protect victims of domestic violence passed in ten states,HI, KS, LA, MD, NY, OR, TN, UT, VT, WA and were signed by Republican governors in Kansas, Maryland, Tennessee, Utah, and Vermont.
- The gun lobby’s top priorities were defeated in states across the country. Bills that would have allowed people to carry hidden, loaded handguns in public without getting a permit have failed in 16 states. And, lawmakers in 15 states have rejected bills that would have forced public colleges and universities to allow guns on campuses. Bills that would allow guns in public K-12 schools have also failed in 16 states.
- A bipartisan group of twenty state attorneys general sued the Trump Administration to block the State Department’s decision to permit online distribution of computer code that can be used to 3D print a firearm. A preliminary injunction is currently in place blocking the action.
- Congress included the Fix NICS Act in a government spending bill, which provided funding to help ensure that federal agencies and states submit records of convicted criminals and domestic abusers into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.