Bump stocks

The Supreme Court issued a ruling that invalidates a 2018 ban on “bump stocks”. These are designed to increase the rate of fire of semiautomatic rifles using the recoil to mechanically “bump” the trigger against the user’s finger.

Is there any kind of practical use for this, other than having fun or possibly mowing down people? Not really. It’s not like there’s a need for anything of the sort while hunting or target shooting. Of course, the Second Amendment has nothing to do with either hunting or target shooting, so that isn’t really pertinent. There are a lot of guns out there that are essentially useless during peacetime other than for pure entertainment. Never underestimate the childlike glee of emptying a 20- or 30-round magazine downrange, safely, in a brief period. If anyone ever offers you the chance to run a few dozen (or a few hundred) rounds through anything on full auto, take it. No question. I’ve fired an M60 machine gun, an M16 on full auto, and a charming little .22 submachine gun that looks like the love child of a Thompson and a Lewis gun. That one was suppressed, for even more fun. I highly recommend it if you get the chance.

Don’t take this to mean that I’m in favor of bump stocks, or in favor of banning them. My opinion on that subject honestly doesn’t matter one bit. What does matter is how this whole drama has played and is playing out.

In 2018, the BATFE issued a ruling that they considered bump stocks to be included in the definition of a “machine gun”. Machine guns are, to a degree, legal to own, as long as the gun was manufactured prior to 1986 and the owner has the gun registered with BATFE and has paid a tax. Since supply is very limited and getting smaller all the time, owning a machinegun is beyond the reach of most gun enthusiasts. Even the cheapest full-auto gun will set you back well over $10K, plus a long slog of paperwork. Of course since bump stocks were developed after 1986, if they’re ruled to be machine guns — they’re illegal.

But there’s a specific definition of a “machine gun” in the National Firearms Act. The BATF had issued several letters in the years prior to 2018 stating that bump stocks were not considered machine guns, and were legal. In 2018, they reversed that and declared them to be machine guns. This kind of semi-random rulemaking is not unusual for the BATFE, nor is it unique to them — plenty of agencies do the same kind of thing.

The minority dissenting opinion from the Supreme Court, written by Justice Sotomayor for herself, Kagan, and Jackson, said this:

“When I see a bird that walks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duck. A bump-stock-equipped semiautomatic rifle fires ‘automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger,’ I, like Congress, call that a machinegun.”

Well, there’s the problem. You see a duck, someone else sees a loon or a goose or whatever. A bump stock does not technically allow the gun to keep firing “by a single function of the trigger”. It just allows the shooter to activate the trigger quite a bit faster than most of us could do manually. That’s according to all those BATFE issued letters saying that they were not machine guns.

Congress did, in 1934, write a definition, and the BATFE has been interpreting and re-interpreting it ever since. If Congress wants to impose some improved or additional clarity, or if they want to expand or change the definition, then Congress should do so rather than allowing the BATFE to do what they lack the will or the motivation or the intestinal fortitude to do. Updating a law every 90 years or so might not be the worst thing that could happen.