In just 11 minutes, a heavily armed assailant fired 1,049 rounds of ammunition into a crowd of concertgoers from his hotel room window in Las Vegas, killing 58 and injuring more than 800. Although fully automatic machine guns are illegal in the United States, he carried out the 2017 massacre with the help of a device known as a "bump stock" (or "bump fire stock"). In fact, 13 of his 18 rifles were equipped with them, according to police.
These devices allow for the rapid fire of semiautomatic rifles with a single pull of the trigger, giving them the lethal efficiency of military-grade machine guns. But are bump stocks legal? The federal government officially banned bump stocks, effective March 26, 2019, but at least one bump stock manufacturer has filed suit over the ban. Below is a discussion of bump stocks and the federal ban against their sale or use.
Bump Stocks: Definition
Fully automatic weapons (illegal under federal law, with some limited exceptions) are capable of firing several hundred bullets per minute, although in reality they may overheat, run out of bullets, or jam up if continually fired for an extended period of time. The U.S. military issued M4 and M16, for example, have rates of fire of roughly 800 rounds per minute. Bullets are fed into the chamber and fired in rapid succession for as long as the trigger is squeezed, or until the magazine is empty.
Semi-automatic firearms, on the other hand, load and fire rounds as quickly as the trigger is pulled. This brings us to bump stocks, which are intended to make a semi-automatic weapon (such as the popular AR-15) perform as if it were fully automatic.
Bump stocks were sold to replace the standard stocks on semi-automatic rifles, attaching to the gun's receiver (or frame). They use the kinetic energy from the rifle's recoil (the "kick" caused by the blast) to "bump" the trigger back against the shooter's trigger finger at a rapid rate, roughly 400 rounds per minute. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) decided in 2010 that bump stocks were just an accessory and thus not subject to federal regulation.
Backlash and Eventual Ban of Bump Fire Stocks
The Las Vegas mass shooting referenced above, the deadliest in U.S. history, prompted the general public, the President, and even the National Rifle Association to call for tighter regulation or an outright ban on bump stocks. Members of Congress resisted the call for legislation banning the devices, so President Trump directed the U.S. Justice Department in March 2018 to define bump stocks as "machine guns" rendering them illegal.
Sales of bump stocks reportedly skyrocketed after the DOJ's new rule first was proposed in December 2018, before they were declared illegal. The ban went into effect on March 26, 2019 and was retroactive. If you're one of the thousands of gun owners who purchased a bump stock before the March 2019 date, the law requires you to destroy the device or surrender it to the nearest ATF office (no questions asked).
Failure to comply with the law (simply possessing one of these devices) is considered a violation of federal law ("...it shall be unlawful for any person to transfer or possess a machinegun."). Therefore, possessing a bump stock is identical to possessing a fully automatic machine gun under federal law. Possession of a bump stock is charged as a felony and can result in up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
More Questions About Bump Stocks? Get Legal Help Today
Even if you simply missed the deadline to surrender or destroy a legally purchased bump stock device, you may be charged with a felony for the lapse. There are some limited exceptions to the rule, but you'll want the assistance of expert legal counsel if you're charged or if you're concerned that you may be charged. Get started today and reach out to an experienced criminal defense attorney near you.