The National Rifle Association (NRA) released a statement this week that calls for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) to review the legality of bump fire stocks. The timing of the statement was highly unusual, as the only calls for gun control had been coming from Democrats and were met with absolutely no public support. As soon as the NRA stepped in to make its statement, the gun control debate that had been dying down was suddenly reinvigorated. Even Congressional Republicans began to discuss cracking down on bump fire stocks, with one Florida Republican going so far as to state that he would introduce legislation to ban bump fire stocks.
The thinking of those who want bump fire stocks banned runs along certain lines:
- Bump fire stocks allow semi-auto firearms to function like machine guns.
- Bump fire stocks make semi-auto firearms deadlier.
- Without bump fire stocks the Las Vegas shooter couldn’t have bump fired.
- Without bump firing, the Las Vegas shooter couldn’t have killed as many people.
None of these assertions is true. So let’s unpack them to see why they’re false.
1. FALSE: Bump Fire Stocks Allow Semi-Auto Firearms to Function Like Machine Guns
Semi-automatic firearms function by firing one round per pull of the trigger. When the trigger is pulled, the hammer is released to strike the firing pin. In the case of the AR-15, some of the powder gas pushing the bullet out of the barrel returns through the gas tube into the gas key to push the bolt carrier rearwards, ejecting the spent case and pushing the hammer back to where it is caught by the trigger, even if the trigger is still being held back. The gun cannot be fired again until the trigger is released and pulled again.
In a fully automatic (machine gun) AR-15 or M-16 there is an additional part, an auto sear, that keeps the hammer from being caught on the trigger, allowing the gun to keep firing until the trigger is released or the gun runs out of ammunition.
Bump fire stocks don’t change a semi-auto firearm to function like a machine gun, they merely use the firearm’s recoil to increase the rate at which the trigger can be activated by a person’s finger. But practicing semi-auto fire to increase trigger pull frequency would have the same effect.
In fact, bump firing a semi-automatic firearm is inherently more dangerous to the shooter than firing a machine gun. Because there is no auto sear to regulate the rate of fire, the firearm is at risk of having the hammer strike the firing pin before a round is fully in the chamber with the bolt lugs locked. That would result in an out of battery detonation which could potentially blow up the firearm and wound or kill the shooter.
2. FALSE: Bump Fire Stocks Make Semi-Auto Firearms Deadlier
The bullets fired from a semi-automatic firearm are just as deadly as those fired from a fully automatic firearm. 100 rounds fired in a minute are going to do just as much damage as 100 rounds fired in 10 seconds. Yes, a higher cyclic rate sounds scarier. That’s why American training videos from WWII tried to teach GIs not to be scared of the high cyclic rate of “Hitler’s Buzzsaw.” But a higher cyclic rate does not equate to higher lethality.
3. FALSE: Without Bump Fire Stocks the Las Vegas Shooter Couldn’t Have Bump Fired
Bump firing has been around for as long as there have been semi-automatic firearms. Before the development of bump fire stocks, bump firing was accomplished by releasing the grip with the trigger hand, holding the trigger finger stationary and straight against the trigger and exerting steady forward pressure on the rifle’s forearm.
The forward pressure on the forearm would pull the trigger into the trigger finger, firing the rifle. The recoil of the rifle would force the rifle backward, “bumping” the rifle against the body, which combined with the forward pressure on the forearm would move the rifle forward again against the trigger finger, firing the rifle again.
It’s a difficult process to describe and bump firing wasn’t the easiest process to master, but it was doable with a few minutes of practice. Getting rid of bump fire stocks wouldn’t get rid of bump firing, it would just require slightly more practice for the average shooter to learn how to bump fire.
4. FALSE: Without Bump Firing the Las Vegas Shooter Couldn’t Have Killed as Many People
The Las Vegas shooter would still have been able to kill a whole bunch of people even without bump fire stocks. It might have taken him 20-30 seconds or more to fire 100 rounds versus 10 seconds, but that wouldn’t have resulted in any fewer casualties. Furthermore, in the age of the Internet and easily available machine tools, anyone with knowledge and desire can build a drop in auto sear (DIAS) that can convert an AR-15 into a fully automatic rifle. Yes, it’s illegal to do that, but people who are hell-bent on murdering dozens of people generally aren’t too concerned with legality.
In short, bump fire stocks had no effect on the number of people killed in Las Vegas or on the shooter’s ability to fire hundreds of rounds. They’re just something that’s scary to those who have no knowledge of guns and are a convenient scapegoat.
But those of us who are knowledgeable about guns understand the dangerous precedent that the NRA’s statement sets. The NRA is trying to play politics and blame Obama for ATF’s determination that bump fire stocks do not convert a semi-auto firearm into a machine gun.
That’s why they’re asking ATF to reconsider its ruling, allowing ATF to change its mind and declare that bump fire stocks constitute an illegal modification of a semi-auto firearm into a fully automatic firearm. But the determination was correct and in keeping with the letter of federal law.
If ATF is allowed to bow to political pressure to contradict its previous ruling and make a finding that is clearly contrary to federal law, it opens up a Pandora’s box. There is no telling what other rulings ATF might make in the future that contradict its previous rulings, leaving gun owners further at the whim of unelected bureaucrats.
If ATF changes its mind on the legality of bump fire stocks and determines that bump fire stocks constitute a modification that converts a semi-auto firearm into a fully automatic firearm, then it’s only a short jump from there to determine that the act of bump firing itself constitutes an illegal conversion, or for ATF under a future Democratic President to rule that any rifle that can be readily bump fired or converted to fire full auto should be banned. The NRA has started down a slippery slope, the consequences of which should have been foreseen but which were apparently ignored.
The NRA is trying to appease gun grabbers by sacrificing what they think is a meaningless gun part, perhaps hoping to trade that for consideration of a national concealed carry reciprocity bill. Why exactly the NRA is doing this is hard to understand.
No one thought that banning bump fire stocks was going to gain any traction. Gun control proponents haven’t been able to pass any gun control at the federal level in years. They have been losing ground steadily as more and more Americans stand up for their right to bear arms. It was only after the NRA handed this gun control gift on a silver platter to the gun grabbers that the idea of banning bump fire stocks began to pick up steam.
The NRA’s statement is the political equivalent of defeating an enemy on the battlefield and then surrendering to them while they retreat. It is snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Time will tell just how stupendous a blunder it was, but in the meantime, it’s up to gun owners to remain vigilant in defending their rights.