Colin McCallin Jan. 31, 2018

On Monday, January 22, 2018, Denver became one of just a few cities in the country so far to ban bump stocks. Across the country, city and state legislators are looking to bump stock bans as gun control legislation that both parties can agree on. However, classification issues make a federal action more complicated. ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms) does not classify the accessory as a machine gun. It is regarded as a part, and remains unregulated as a result. Congress has the option of stepping in and creating legislation to address this but that has not been developed yet, leaving smaller government to tackle the matter.

What is a bump stock?

A bump stock is a device attached to a semi-automatic rifle that allows that rifle to shoot even faster. This essentially bumps the level of the semi-automatic to a fully automatic rifle. Since fully automatic machine guns are banned for civilians, and have been since 1986 under the Firearm Owner’s Protection Act, many see banning bump stocks a natural extension of that. However, others argue that numerous methods and devices can hack a semi-automatic into a faster shooting weapon and that such legislation will not necessarily be that effective.

What prompted the ban?

The ban was prompted by the Las Vegas shooting in October. The shooter killed 58 people and wounded hundreds more with the aid of such a device.

A semi –automatic reloads automatically but needs to be triggered for each shot. A fully automatic rifle only needs one pull on the trigger to fire multiple shots. In crimes that involve weapons, it is clear that police are placed at a huge disadvantage when an assailant can shoot more bullets faster and do so indiscriminately.

Semi –automatic rifles have been used in mass shootings but only 2% of homicides across the board involve them. The Vegas shooting was unique for a mass shooting in that fully automatic fire was enabled, and police and legislators rightly want to prevent what could become a new approach to mass shootings.

Related gun sales and issues

The recent Tanner gun show in Denver marked the first event without the bump stocks on sale. However, the vendors at the event noted several downward trends in sales, not necessarily related to the bump stock ban. One, when gun control is not a huge issue on the table, as it was believed to be during the Obama administration, sales go down. Furthermore, younger generations do not appear as interested in gun ownership. This could be attributed to lifestyle trends, like hunting less, but may be due to costs, or concerns about gun violence in general.

Will it make a difference?

The biggest argument for the ban is to prevent massacres like the Vegas shooting. However, even bump stock opponents acknowledge that a semi-automatic rifle still does significant damage and all the ban can do is possibly reduce those numbers and buy law enforcement a bit more time when trying to reach and foil the assailant.

But the illegal conversion of semi- automatic rifles to faster or fully automatic rifles has been a serious issue for law enforcement. They have been modified for use in armed robberies and other crimes, leading many police departments to increase their weaponry as well, making American police departments heavily militarized and well-armed in major metro areas.

Ultimately, cities and states that bar bump stocks are doing what they think is best to reduce the risk of greater fatalities in the event of a mass shooting. But the issue is clearly much more complicated than banning an accessory and will require innovative approaches in the coming years.