On February 20th, President Donald Trump announced that he supported banning bump stocks for guns — one of his first attempts to address gun control. But what is a bump stock, and why are politicians calling for it to be banned?
A bump stock is an attachment for a gun that can increase the speed at which a semiautomatic weapon fires. According to the New York Times, this accessory works by replacing the part of a gun that rests against the user’s shoulder. Unlike a standard stock, the bump stock uses the recoil from a gunshot to slide back and forth, causing the trigger to hit the user’s finger and the gun to fire. As a result, this modification can allow semiautomatic weapons to fire at almost the same rate as machine guns, which fire continuously after the trigger is pressed once.
Although machine guns are illegal, bump stocks are not. Under President Barack Obama, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) ruled that the attachments could not be banned by the federal government because they don’t physically alter a semiautomatic rifle’s trigger.
After gunman Stephen Paddock opened fire on a crowd outside the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas last October, 12 guns equipped with bump stocks were recovered from his hotel room. In response, many gun control advocates renewed their push to outlaw the modification, and in December, the ATF and the Department of Justice began to review the legality of these gun accessories. A proposal drafted by the ATF to reconsider bump stocks’ legality drew an unusual 35,000 comments from the public, suggesting widespread support of banning these stocks. And even though the February 14th shooting in Parkland, Florida didn’t involve the use of bump stocks, Trump has directed the DOJ to propose a ban for these attachments.
Because of the legal precedent established during the Obama administration, it’s unlikely that bump stocks will be banned without Congress passing a new law. And even if modifications like bump stocks were banned, they wouldn’t stop all shootings from happening. But given that the United States has made no significant changes to gun control laws since the Sandy Hook shooting, we think banning these accessories would be a step in the right direction. We need better gun control laws, and we need them now.