Republicans Poised To Kill Bump Stock Ban—Even After Many Once Supported Restrictions

Gun Rights

Topline

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., is expected to ask the Senate to pass a federal ban on bump stocks for guns as soon as Tuesday—after the Supreme Court overturned a ban on the devices—but Republicans are expected to strike the effort down despite previously supporting it when the devices first came under scrutiny.

Key Facts

Schumer will ask senators to ban bump stocks through unanimous consent—where all senators would have to agree to the measure—Politico reports, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he intends to block the effort from passing.

The Supreme Court struck down a federal ban on bump stocks—devices that allow semi-automatic firearms to shoot at a much faster rate, mimicking a machine gun—on Friday, ruling 6-3 the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) exceeded its authority when it decided in 2018 to outlaw bump stocks under federal law.

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Bump stocks first became controversial after the device was used in the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, the deadliest in modern U.S. history, with politicians on both sides of the aisle calling for bump stocks to be restricted.

Multiple GOP lawmakers advocated for bump stocks to be banned at the time, though then-House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., ultimately pushed for the ATF to take action rather than Congress, and bump stocks were banned under Donald Trump’s presidency—with the Justice Department saying at the time they were “faithfully following President Trump’s leadership by making clear that bump stocks … are illegal.”

Republicans in Congress haven’t shown the same appetite for action against bump stocks now that the devices have become legal again, however: In addition to Graham, Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., told NBC News he’s “fine with it being a states issue” and wouldn’t support a federal ban, while Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, referred to Democrats’ push to ban bump stocks as “legislating in a way that solves fake problems.”

Trump, despite previously pushing for a bump stock ban as president, has also appeared to do an about-face, with the Trump campaign telling the Associated Press the Supreme Court’s decision “should be respected” and emphasizing Trump is a “fierce defender of Americans’ Second Amendment rights.”

What To Watch For

Whether Democrats can take meaningful action in Congress on banning bump stocks given Republican opposition. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., acknowledged to The Hill there was “probably not” any way for the two sides to reach agreement on bump stocks, but said Democrats needed to put the issue on the Senate floor anyway, in order “to draw the contrast, put Republicans on the record, and also to give our side an opportunity to show where we are.”

Contra

Some Republicans have signaled they’re open to the possibility of legislation on bump stocks, including Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., though Tillis told The Hill he believed Schumer’s tactic of asking for unanimous consent was the wrong move. “If he were serious about it, he would be calling people into a room who’ve worked on bipartisan bills and say, ‘I know I’ve got an unwilling House. How do we produce a bipartisan outcome?’” Tillis said. “Instead he’s going to do a [unanimous consent request]

and say all Republicans are against it,” the lawmaker continued, accusing Schumer of “poisoning the well” on the issue and calling for unanimous consent as a “political exercise.”

Chief Critic

Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., slammed Vance for referring to the debate over bump stocks as a “fake problem,” telling reporters, “Shame on him. Shame on him for disrespecting the dead.” “Let him come to Las Vegas. Let him see the memorial for those people who died. Let him talk to those families,” Rosen said. “It’s not a fake problem. Those families are dead.”

Surprising Fact

The National Rifle Association also supported restrictions on bump stocks in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, saying the organization “should be subject to additional regulations.” The NRA has recently also changed its position on the devices, however, filing a brief with the Supreme Court urging it to overturn the federal ban.

Key Background

Bump stocks are devices that replace a semi automatic firearm’s stock with a sliding stock and trigger guard, which, when a shooter fires the gun, allows their finger to repeatedly “bump” against the trigger, firing shots at a high speed. The ATF long allowed the devices under federal law despite a ban on machine guns, because the law defines a machine gun as a firearm that can shoot “automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger”—while bump stocks technically require the trigger to be deployed multiple times. The ATF’s 2018 ban on bump stocks required everyone who owned the device to either destroy them or surrender them to the agency, and firearm owner Michael Cargill sued the government, arguing the ATF had exceeded its authority in banning the devices. The Supreme Court agreed with Cargill on Friday, with the court’s conservative justices agreeing bump stocks don’t fit into the federal definition of a machine gun, while the three liberal justices dissented. In a concurring opinion, Justice Samuel Alito suggested Congress should take action to ban bump stocks itself. “Congress can amend the law—and perhaps would have done so already if ATF had stuck with its earlier interpretation,” Alito wrote. “Now that the situation is clear, Congress can act.”

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