Gun Control

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser's Proposed Bump Stock Ban Is Mostly Pointless

It's more about sending a message to Congress


Lorie Shaull/Flickr

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced a plan yesterday to introduce local legislation banning the possession and sale of bump stocks in the nation's capital. The policy's net effect would be close to zero, however.

For one thing, D.C.'s longstanding assault weapons ban makes the great majority of firearms which can accept bump stocks—AR-15s, AK-47s, and their variants—already illegal to own or possess. Moreover, bump stocks operate on recoil, which you can't get without firing a gun. Guess what? Legally owned or not, firing a gun is also illegal within city limits, except in self defense.

Bowser's proposed ban would merely outlaw a part that helps an outlawed gun do an outlawed thing, faster.

So what's the point of banning bump stocks in D.C.?

When Congress gave the District limited autonomy to pass local laws in 1973, it reserved the power to review and veto the Council's decisions under most circumstances. When District law implicates issues of national political concern, such as abortion and marijuana prohibition (and, these days, gun control) Congress often intervenes to block the Council's typically-progressive maneuvers.

Local leaders generally resist this meddling, but in this case, they're actually hoping for it. Kevin Donahue, the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety, told The Washington Post that Bowser's administration hopes to force members of Congress to go "on the record" regarding bump stock prohibition, either letting the District's symbolic ban stand, or stepping in to veto it. "They could actively disapprove a bump stock ban, or they could tacitly approve," Donahue said. "Either way, they'll be on record."

Presumably, Donahue and Bowser want to force pro-gun politicians who have tentatively voiced approval of a bump stock ban to put their money where their mouth is, or not.

D.C., which has one of the strictest "state-level" gun control regimes in the country, had 116 homicides in 2017, of which 89 were fatal shootings. A spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of Forensic Services, which processes illegal guns recovered by police, said that their office received 2,191 firearms last year, but could not say how many of those were rifles that would be capable of accepting a bump stock attachment. According to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report, rifles of all kinds accounted for 3.27 percent* of gun homicides from 2011-2016.

*CORRECTION: The original version of this article stated that rifles accounted for 2.28 percent of gun homicides. They accounted for 2.28 percent of all homicides, and 3.27 percent of gun homicides.