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Gillibrand Misleads on Trump’s Bump Stock Ban

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand claimed President Donald Trump failed to keep his promise after a mass shooting in Las Vegas to ban bump stocks. Trump may not have moved as quickly as Gillibrand would have liked, but Trump did enact a bump stock ban, which went into effect in March.

At a town hall event hosted by Fox News on June 2, the Democratic presidential candidate from New York was asked what she would do as president to reduce gun violence. Gillibrand blamed the influence of the National Rifle Association for blocking popular gun control measures, such as universal background checks. She also said she would “make sure we ban the bump stock, the large magazines, the assault rifles, the military style weapons.”

A “bump stock” is a plastic or metal device that can be attached to the rear of a semiautomatic rifle to make it shoot almost as fast as a fully automatic weapon. The stock uses recoil to make the weapon bump back and forth between the shooter’s shoulder and trigger finger, causing the firearm to fire rapidly.

Fox News host Chris Wallace asked Gillibrand if there’s anything that could have been done to stop the mass shooting in Virginia Beach on May 31. (It was later learned that the shooter had legally purchased the handguns used in the attack. The guns were not enhanced by a bump stock, but the shooter did have multiple extended magazines that allowed him to fire more rounds.)

“Yeah, stop being beholden to the NRA like President Trump is,” Gillibrand said. “Remember after the shooting in Las Vegas, he [Trump] said, yeah, yeah we’re gonna ban the bump stocks. Did he ban the bump stocks? No, because the NRA came crashing down and said, ‘Don’t you dare do any restrictions on our guns around this country.’ It is such a false choice.”

Gillibrand was referring to the mass shooting in Las Vegas in October 2017 perpetrated by 64-year-old Stephen Paddock, who used AR-style rifles affixed with bump stocks to shoot people attending an outdoor concert. That day, 59 people were killed and hundreds more were injured.

Several days after the shooting, Trump was asked if bump stocks should be banned, and he vowed his administration would “be looking into that over the next short period of time.”

The NRA seemed supportive of the idea. NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre and NRA political strategist Chris Cox issued a statement saying, “The NRA believes that devices designed to allow semiautomatic rifles to function like fully-automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations.”

The NRA later clarified that it did not support a total ban, and that it was opposed to legislative action, preferring instead a revised regulation from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). (That position led some gun control advocates to speculate the NRA was not sincere about regulating bump stocks, and was merely trying to divert attention from a legislative effort that might have ended with a complete ban.)

Two months after the Las Vegas shooting, the Justice Department and the ATF announced that it had begun the regulatory process to determine if bump stocks were prohibited under existing federal laws that ban the use of machine guns. As we have written, the ATF determined several times since 2008 that certain models of bump stocks could not be prohibited under existing gun laws

On Dec. 26, 2017, the ATF published an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register to clarify whether “bump fire” stocks fell within the definition of “machinegun.” According to the White House, public comment on that notice concluded on Jan. 25, 2018, with the Department of Justice receiving over 100,000 comments.

The mass school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14, 2018 — which left 17 dead — brought gun control back into the forefront of the national debate.

On Feb. 20, 2018, Trump announced that he had signed a memorandum directing the attorney general to “dedicate all available resources to complete the review of the comments received, and, as expeditiously as possible, to propose for notice and comment a rule banning all devices that turn legal weapons into machineguns.”

That ultimately led the Department of Justice and ATF to issue a new federal regulation on Dec. 18, 2018, officially banning bump stocks.

ATF, Department of Justice Final Rule, Dec. 18, 2018: The Department of Justice is amending the regulations of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) to clarify that bump-stock-type devices — meaning “bump fire” stocks, slide-fire devices, and devices with certain similar characteristics — are “machineguns” as defined by the National Firearms Act of 1934 and the Gun Control Act of 1968 because such devices allow a shooter of a semiautomatic firearm to initiate a continuous firing cycle with a single pull of the trigger. Specifically, these devices convert an otherwise semiautomatic firearm into a machinegun by functioning as a self-acting or self-regulating mechanism that harnesses the recoil energy of the semiautomatic firearm in a manner that allows the trigger to reset and continue firing without additional physical manipulation of the trigger by the shooter. Hence, a semiautomatic firearm to which a bump-stock-type device is attached is able to produce automatic fire with a single pull of the trigger. With limited exceptions, the Gun Control Act, as amended, makes it unlawful for any person to transfer or possess a machinegun unless it was lawfully possessed prior to the effective date of the statute. The bumpstock-type devices covered by this final rule were not in existence prior to the effective date of the statute, and therefore will be prohibited when this rule becomes effective.

The rule required the owners of any bump stocks to destroy the devices or turn them in at an ATF office prior to March 26, when the rule went into effect.

NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker said the NRA was “disappointed” with the president’s rule because it did not provide a grandfather clause allowing gun owners who already had the devices to keep them.

Giffords, a gun control group founded by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, said the new rule is “a positive step, but it is not enough.”

“Congress still failed to take any action and instead passed the buck to the ATF, complicating the situation and opening the door to prolonged judicial disputes,” Giffords Senior Policy Advisor David Chapman said in a press release. “It’s horrifying to think that for over 500 days [after the Las Vegas shooting], bump stocks have remained available for purchase — and in danger of falling into the wrong hands. In that same time, our country’s gun violence crisis has continued unabated, while Republican leadership and the Trump Administration have done nothing to stop it.”

Chapman was right that the regulation would be challenged by gun rights groups, but to date, the courts have upheld the rule.

So, contrary to Gillibrand’s claim, Trump banned bump stocks and he did so despite the NRA’s objection.

We asked her campaign what she meant when she said Trump did not ban the bump stock “because the NRA came crashing down” on him.

“Senator Gillibrand’s statement during the town hall referred to the time immediately following the Las Vegas shooting, when President Trump first expressed openness to banning bump stocks, then backed down after being forcefully rebuffed by the NRA, who took victory laps over his retreat,” Evan Lukaske, national press secretary for the Gillibrand campaign, told us via email.

Lukaske pointed to a New York Times story on Dec. 18, 2018, that said the NRA’s Cox “bragged in an interview with a gun enthusiast that the organization’s actions had succeeded in slowing down momentum for legislative reform.”

“Senator Gillibrand acknowledges that five months after the Las Vegas shooting, bump stocks were eventually banned — much to the NRA’s chagrin,” Lukaske said. “Her statement supports the larger point; the NRA uses money and influence to control members of the Republican Party, and prevent common sense gun reforms that the vast majority of Americans and gun owners support.”

One can take issue with the speed of the Trump administration’s efforts to ban bump stocks, or fault the president for not quickly rallying Republicans to support legislation to ban bump stocks. But Gillibrand’s comment — “Did he ban the bump stocks? No.” — leaves the impression that the president never enacted a bump stock ban.

In fact, Trump spoke consistently about banning bump stocks and his administration did move methodically through the bureaucratic channels and ultimately enacted a regulation to ban them.

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"Remember after the shooting in Las Vegas, he [Trump] said, yeah, yeah we’re gonna ban the bump stocks. Did he ban the bump stocks? No."
Fox News town hall
Sunday, June 2, 2019