In the wake of last week's shooting Parkland Florida—which left 17 people dead—President Donald Trump announced his intention to ban bump stocks.
"Just a few moments ago I signed a memo directing the attorney general to propose regulations that ban all devices that turn legal weapons into machine guns," said Trump in a public address Tuesday afternoon, "I expect these regulations to be finalized, Jeff, very soon" addressing Attorney General Jeff Sessions directly.
The President's memo demands that the Department of Justice complete an ongoing review of whether bump stocks—a device which greatly increases the rate of fire of a semi-automatic weapon—are currently prohibited by current federal laws restricting machine guns.
Once an obscure novelty item derided by most firearms enthusiasts for reducing accuracy, bump stocks have since been elevated to the center of the national debate on gun control following last year's shooting in Las Vegas. The shooter, Stephen Paddock, was found in possession of 12 bump stock-equipped rifles.
Given the death toll from the Las Vegas shooting—with some 58 people killed, and many hundreds wounded—and the relative unpopularity of bump stocks among gun owners, a bipartisan consensus quickly grew around prohibiting or restricting the device.
Arch-gun control advocate Sen. Diane Feinstein (D – Calif.) announced a bill banning bump stocks within days of the shooting. This was followed by a string of Republican lawmakers—including Rep. Bill Flores (R – Texas), Speaker Paul Ryan (R – Wisc.), and Sen. Rob Portman (R – Ohio)—all expressing an openness to some sort of bump stock ban. White House advisor Kellyanne Conway appeared on CNN, blaming the Obama Administration for not banning the device, and the National Rifle Association expressed tepid support for "additional regulations."
Since 2010, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) sent multiple opinion letters to bump stock manufacturers saying the devices are outside its authority to regulate. In a 2013 letter to Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D – Colo.) the Bureau stated that it "does not have the authority to restrict their lawful possession, use, or transfer" of bump stocks.
Nevertheless, Trump's DOJ issued a press release on December 5, 2017 stating that the Department would be reinterpreting the definition of machine-gun in federal firearms statutes to see if bump stocks would be included after all.
"Possessing firearm parts that are used exclusively in converting a weapon into a machine gun is illegal," said Attorney General Jeff Sessions in that press release. "Today we begin the process of determining whether or not bump stocks are covered by this prohibition."
That process is still underway. Trump's memo essentially directs Sessions, provided the DOJ review of regulations determines bump stocks can be banned after all, to develop rules doing just that.
Given the mounting pressure to "do something" following the most recent Parkland shooting, the lack of strong conservative opposition to their prohibition, bump stocks have become an easy target of new federal firearms restrictions.
Despite it's popularity however, it's hard to see how a bump stock ban would improve public safety. The device's impact on the Las Vegas shooting's death toll is questionable. No mass shooters before or since have used the device.
Shootings like the one that happened in Florida last week, or in Las Vegas last year, are no doubt horrific, but banning bump stocks will likely do nothing to prevent such terrible events from happening again.