October 15, 2018
By David Codrea
"In order to eliminate -- terminate -- bump stocks, we have to go through procedure. We are now at the final stages of that procedure," President Donald Trump declared in an Oct. 1 Rose Garden press conference marking the anniversary of the Las Vegas shootings. "We are knocking out bump stocks. I’ve told the NRA -- bump stocks are gone.
“We’re in the final two or three weeks and I’ll be able to write out bump stocks,” Trump clarified.
It’ll be after the White House Office of Management and Budget gets done with it, actually. Per CNN, the Justice Department turned over its Final Rule on Sept. 27, and the OMB now has 90 days to do its review. Per the Las Vegas Review-Journal, “Neither the OMB or Justice would confirm ... that the measure was under review.”
In any case, action appears imminent, making fair the question “What the hell?”
Trump was supposed to be a “pro-gun” president.
Convictions of Convenience
It should come as a surprise to literally no one that the guy who co-authored “The Art of the Deal” is a businessman and a negotiator, meaning compromise is always on the table. While Trump was getting thunderous ovations at the NRA 2015 Annual Meeting for promises like, “I promise you one thing, if I run for president, and if I win, the Second Amendment will be totally protected, that I can tell you,” some of us were urging caution and reminding gun owners of a checkered past on rights.
That includes giving “at least $105,000 to the Clinton Foundation,” the group that presented its Global Citizen Award to anti-gun billionaire Michael Bloomberg for being the “most fierce and most effective advocate that we have on the matter of gun sanity.”
“Over the past decade, Trump has given massive amounts of money not only to Democrats but the most liberal and most corrupt Democrats, such as Charles Schumer, Frank Lautenberg, Ted Kennedy, Harry Reid and Charlie Rangel,” former Rep. Tom Tancredo noted in 2011. He has given $116,000 in recent years to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. He supported John Kerry in 2004…”
As for his views on guns, we know Trump likes them for himself, having obtained an impossible-for-ordinary-people-to-obtain New York City concealed carry permit. And for everyone else...?
“Democrats and Republicans are both wrong on guns,” he declared in 2000, offering what he presumed to be an acceptable middle ground. “Democrats want to confiscate all guns, which is a dumb idea because only the law-abiding citizens would turn in their guns and the bad guys would be the only ones left armed. The Republicans walk the NRA line and refuse even limited restrictions. I generally oppose gun control, but I support the ban on assault weapons and I support a slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun.”
But he’s come around, we’re told, and his “On the Issues” summary reflects what he now says he believes, now that he and NRA have seen the mutual benefits of a limited partnership. And so far, his words have reflected NRA influence.
NRA influence included a green light on ‘regulating’ bump stocks
“Despite the fact that the Obama administration approved the sale of bump fire stocks on at least two occasions, the National Rifle Association is calling on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) to immediately review whether these devices comply with federal law,” NRA’s Wayne La Pierre and Chris Cox maintained in a joint statement. “The NRA believes that devices designed to allow semi-automatic rifles to function like fully-automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations.”
“We call upon ATF to conduct a prompt review and evaluation of aftermarket trigger activation devices such as bump stocks to determine whether they are lawful to install and use on a firearm under the National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA), or whether, if they have no function or purpose other than to convert a conventional firearm into an automatic firearm, they are regulated items under the NFA,” trade groups NSSF and SAAMI echoed in a joint statement of their own. “We urge Congress to allow ATF to complete its review before considering any legislation so that any policy decisions can be informed by the facts and ATF’s analysis.”
What’s pretty clear is both groups preferred keeping the representatives of the people away from this and not making support for and influence with the politicians they had relationships with problematic. “Regulation” offered a perceived “out,” but one not without problems and dangerous precedents of its own.
Tales of the Bizarro World
NRA blaming Obama for being too pro-gun is the first bit of cognitive dissonance. An ATF senior analyst with the Firearms Technology Branch insisting the Bureau has no legal authority to do what NRA demands on bump stocks is the second. Having that reported by the decidedly “anti-gun” Vice News is an Opposite Day trifecta of sorts.
Retired analyst Rick Vasquez, who was part of the original decision that bump stocks don’t illegally alter a weapon’s functioning, properly noted ATF does not have the authority to make such a rule by diktat. Their direction must come from Congress (the representatives we gun owners can then hold accountable). And yes, that still wouldn’t be consistent with “shall not be infringed” nor on the original intent that “Congress have no power to disarm the militia. Their swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birthright of an American...”
But that’s not what we have anymore, is it?
Down the regulatory rabbit hole
Public comment as required by law was accepted. Over 32,000 comments were received. 85 % opposed a ban, ostensibly gun owners that supported Donald Trump for president. And the administration’s mind is made up, despite the rule’s glaring disconnects with reality and with law.
“The [Notice of Proposed Rulemaking] scheme is fatally flawed,” firearms designer, expert witness and Historic Arms, LLC, President Len Savage notes. “The NPRM does not address several serious issues: The change in policy asks for a willing suspension of disbelief of basic science and physics. The change in policy will put ATF experts at risk of being impeached as expert witnesses. The summary of the NPRM is filled with demonstrably false or misleading statements that are disputed by DOJ’s own experts at ATF.”
ATF will be effectively contradicting what it has previously sworn to in court. And as if that’s not enough, it appears the rule being imposed has not been based on examination of the firearms recovered from the shooter’s Mandalay Bay hotel room.
“On-scene ATF personnel were not allowed to physically examine the interior of the weapons” recovered from the Mandalay Bay hotel room reportedly occupied by the shooter, a new Freedom of Information Act production by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives reveals. That baffling revelation is made in a response sent to attorney Stephen Stamboulieh as part of an ongoing production of documents responding to his FOIA request.
This leads to another problem with the finalized “rule.”
“ATF did not disclose that they had not examined the firearms prior to promulgating the rule,” Savage notes. “And now that the comment period is closed, should they go forward with this rule under the Administrative Procedure Act that information cannot be used in a court challenge because it was not submitted prior to closing of comments.”
Add to this that at this writing, assumptions by the media notwithstanding, no official statement made to date definitively demonstrates firearms found in the hotel room with “bump stock” devices attached were even used in the attack, making it fair to speculate if any weapons had been modified. What we believe probable notwithstanding, at this point we can’t say we “know.” Nor can we define the scope of the “problem” nationwide in terms of how many such devices have been used in homicides.
So what’s the big deal? Who really cares about bump stocks?
I imagine those who invested their life savings and years of their lives who now face ruin do. So do those who bought the devices and will now be required to rid themselves of their property without compensation – or become felons subject to draconian fines and prison sentences for possessing an “unregistered machinegun,” not to mention being mandated “prohibited persons” for life, unable to ever “legally” own a gun again.
That said, anyone who thinks this is “just about bump stocks” is missing the point. But don’t take my word for it—take the DOJ’s:
“The Department has determined…there is no way by which the possessor may register a firearm retroactively, including a firearm that has been reclassified … Further, U.S.C. 922(o) prohibits the possession of machineguns that were not lawfully possessed before the effective date of the statute. Accordingly, if the final rule is consistent with this [notice], current possessors of bump-stock-type devices will be obligated to dispose of these devices. A final rule will provide specific information about acceptable methods of disposal, as well as the timeframe under which disposal must be accomplished to avoid violating 18 U.S.C 922(o).”
These are non-negotiable terms of surrender, dictated by a “pro-gun” president, a “pro-gun” attorney general, and enabled by our “gun rights leaders.” Obey or be destroyed. Or as men standing on a green were reportedly ordered: “Throw down your arms, ye villains, ye Rebels, Disperse!”
If Trump and Sessions can get away with this naked, weasel-worded usurpation, guess what the Democrats will be able to pull, especially if enough feckless Republicans take the fire out of core supporter’s bellies and majorities flip.
“The ban is not going to stop criminal activity,” Gun Owners of America’s Erich Pratt warns, “but it will allow a future anti-gun administration to easily expand these regulations to ban AR-15s and other semiautomatic firearms.”
What it will also do is create a whole new class of “criminal” if compliance with a bump stock surrender deadline in Vermont that yielded only two devices is any indication.
The Fruits of Compromise
An analogy of mine I often turn to when discussing one-way “compromise” is that doing so with gun-grabbers is akin to throwing a scrap of flesh to a circling pack of jackals and expecting they’ll be sated and move on. In fact, what they do is accept turf surrendered to establish a new base from which to launch their next incursion. Make no mistake, they want it all.
Such is the case with this “genius” move of throwing bump stocks under the bus via regulation rather than legislation. Who is surprised that the Democrats say that’s not good enough?
Again, per the Review-Journal, ATF careerist turned Giffords Group advisor” David Chipman “dismissed the decision to change the law administratively as ‘a delay tactic,’” even while NRA-endorsed and “A-rated” Republican Dean Heller parroted the “Obama did it” talking point.
Meanwhile, Nevada Democrat Rep. Dina Titus has her eyes on the prize, with her “Closing the Bump Stock Loophole Act, which has bipartisan support. The bill would allow the ATF to ban bump stocks and any other device that significantly accelerates the rate of fire of a semiautomatic weapon.”
What if your skill is having a very fast trigger finger? “Who's ‘rate of fire’ skill level?” Savage asks. Mine? Yours? Jerry Miculek? Miculek, who is one of the most skilled shooters in history, can fire a semi-auto faster than many machine-guns set on full-automatic (five rounds in one second: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v3gf_5MR4tE ). Firearms News Editor, Vincent DeNiro, has commented about the absurdity of this issue in the past. DeNiro asks, “Will the U.S. government, one day in the future, force Jerry Miculek to register his trigger finger with a tattooed serial number or be forced to have it amputated?” Of course, gun owners continuing to use their fast trigger fingers will invigorate Democrats, and other totalitarians, to just ban all semi-automatic rifles.
“We have a federal definition of a machinegun,” Savage reminds us. “[A]ny weapon which shoots, is designed to shoot, or can be readily restored to shoot, automatically more than one shot, without manually reloading, by a single function of the trigger.”
“NOWHERE do you see the words ‘rate of fire’ in the definition,” Savage notes. “Why? because even in 1934 the nitwits that came up with NFA knew that ALL, ANY semiautomatic firearm can fire as fast as a machinegun if you the operator can make multiple ‘single functions of a trigger’ fast enough. The next batch of nit-wits even understood that in 1968. What part don't these folks get?”
The useful idiots don’t, but the minds behind banning semi-autos know exactly what they’re doing and will launch attacks from every angle to get what they want. So look for squawking once the rule is implemented that it’s not good enough, and demands for a legislative ban to gain traction if Republicans succeed in demotivating enough of their base to blow the midterms.
Pushing back in the other direction is attorney Stamboulieh, who “is poised with a Washington plaintiff to fight for an injunction against the anticipated ban. He said the ATF would break the law and create 500,000 unwitting felons overnight” and pledged “I’m going to sue them day one.”
“The ATF’s bumpstock rule, as it currently reads, is a complete contradiction of at least ten years of ATF rulings and exceeds the authority of the ATF to rewrite the statutory definition of a machine gun,” he tells Firearms News.
So who would you rather have? Hillary?
No, of course not. What I’d rather have are honest politicians that honor their oaths to the Constitution, gun rights leaders that put principle above politics, and gun owners that heed Patrick Henry’s warning to “Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect every one who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are inevitably ruined.”
We wouldn’t be very good guards if we ignored the perils and the failures from within our own walls and discouraged truthful observations on the state of the emperor’s clothes.
Disclosure: I am friends with Len Savage and Stephen Stamboulieh, and have joined with them both in legal actions to obtain government Freedom of Information Act compliance.
David Codrea is the winner of multiple journalist awards for investigating / defending the RKBA and a long-time gun owner rights advocate who defiantly challenges the folly of citizen disarmament. In addition to being a field editor/columnist at GUNS Magazine, a featured contributor to AmmoLand, contributor to Firearms News website and magazine, and associate editor for Oath Keepers, he blogs at “The War on Guns: Notes from the Resistance” and posts on Twitter: @dcodrea and Facebook.