Trump administration moves to ban bump stocks

The Trump administration moved Tuesday to officially ban bump stocks, which allow semi-automatic weapons to fire rapidly like automatic firearms, and has made them illegal to possess beginning in late March.

Bump stocks became focal point of U.S. gun control debate after Las Vegas massacre

A bump stock is shown attached to a semi-automatic rifle at a store in Utah. The Trump administration is moving to officially ban bump stocks, which allow semi-automatic weapons to fire rapidly like automatic firearms. (Rick Bowmer/Associated Press)

The Trump administration Tuesday banned bump stocks, the firearm attachments that allow semi-automatic weapons to fire like machine-guns and were used during the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

The regulation gives gun owners until late March to turn in or destroy the devices. After that, it will be illegal to possess them under the same federal laws that prohibit machine-guns.

Bump stocks became a focal point of the gun control debate after they were used in October 2017 when a man opened fire from his Las Vegas hotel suite into a crowd at a country music concert, killing 58 people and injuring hundreds more.

The regulation was signed Tuesday by acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker. It will take effect 90 days after it is published in the Federal Register, which is expected to happen Friday.

Hundreds of thousands sold this decade

Bump stock owners will be required to either destroy them or surrender them to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), a senior Justice Department official said. It is impossible to know just how many bump stocks Americans own because the devices aren't traceable, but ATF has estimated that between 280,000 and about 520,000 have been sold since 2010.

Investigators expect most owners will comply with the new rule and ATF will take action against those who don't, the official said. But there's no surefire way to know whether owners are complying. The official briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said President Donald Trump was "once again fulfilling a promise he made to the American people." Trump had promised the ban in March, saying the devices "turn legal weapons into illegal machines."

Shortly afterward, the Justice Department announced that it had started the process to amend federal firearms regulations to define bump stocks as machine-guns. ATF sought public comment on the proposal, drawing more than 35,000 comments.

The amended regulations reverse a 2010 ATF decision that found bump stocks did not amount to machine-guns and could not be regulated unless Congress changed existing firearms law or passed a new one. In the aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting, there was a growing push by some members of Congress to ban bump stocks, but no legislation was passed. At least 10 states have sought their own restrictions on the devices.

Gun Owners of America promises lawsuit

People who own bump stocks will be required to either surrender them to the ATF or destroy them by late March, the official said. The change has undergone a legal review and the Justice Department and ATF are ready to fight any legal challenge that may be brought, the official added.

The amended rule was met almost immediately with resistance from gun rights advocates, including Gun Owners of America, which said it would file a lawsuit against the Justice Department and ATF in order to protect gun owners from the "unconstitutional regulations."

People pray last September at a makeshift memorial for victims of the Oct. 1, 2017, mass shooting in Las Vegas. Bump stocks became a focal point in the U.S. gun control debate after the massacre. (John Locher/Associated Press)

"These regulations implicate Second Amendment rights, and courts should be highly suspect when an agency changes its 'interpretation' of a statute in order to impair the exercise of enumerated constitutional rights," the organization's executive director, Erich Pratt, said.

The Justice Department official said the government will fight any legal challenge that may be brought

The National Rifle Association called on the Justice Department to provide amnesty for gun owners who already have bump stocks.

"We are disappointed that this final rule fails to address the thousands of law-abiding Americans who relied on prior ATF determinations when lawfully acquiring these devices," said spokeswoman Jennifer Baker.

Police said the gunman in the Las Vegas massacre, Stephen Paddock, fired for more than 10 minutes using multiple weapons outfitted with target scopes and bump stocks. Paddock fatally shot himself after the shooting and there were 23 assault-style weapons, including 14 fitted with rapid-fire "bump stock" devices, strewn about the room near his body in a 32nd-floor hotel suite at the Mandalay Bay casino-hotel.

The largest manufacturer of bump stocks, Slide Fire Solutions, announced in April that it was going to stop taking orders and shutting down its website. The remaining stock of the devices is now being sold by another company, RW Arms, based in Fort Worth, Texas.