Don’t buy the hype: The NRA is using bump stocks to distract from something far worse

The U.S. doesn’t have a bump stock problem; we have a gun violence problem.

Four days after the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, the National Rifle Association deviated from its usual post-massacre routine of radio silence and issued a statement that, at first glance, appeared to express support for banning bump stocks, the device that allowed the Las Vegas shooter to mimic automatic gunfire using semi-automatic weapons:

“The National Rifle Association is calling on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to immediately review whether these devices comply with federal law. The NRA believes that devices designed to allow semi-automatic rifles to function like fully automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations… [W]e urge Congress to pass National Right-to-Carry reciprocity, which will allow law-abiding Americans to defend themselves and their families from acts of violence.”

The media ate it up.

The Washington Post referred to the NRA’s statement as a “game-changing decision” and said it “reflects the impact of [the] Las Vegas massacre.” NBC News called it “an unusual and potentially game-changing move.” CBS News said “the NRA’s decision on bump stocks is a big deal.” The Philadelphia Tribune called the NRA an “ally” in banning the device.

“Even the NRA sees a problem with bump stocks,” the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board declared. “What a significant moment this could be, in the wake of a horrendous criminal act, for the national conversation about gun rights and gun culture.”

Don’t get too excited.

While the NRA may have changed their strategy, they haven’t changed their position. The group’s statement on bump stocks is a political manuever aimed at generating good PR, avoiding meaningful action on gun control, and distracting the public while they work to further weaken gun laws nationwide.

Take a second look at the statement. The NRA tossed the issue of bump stock regulation to the ATF, instead of asking Congress to take legislative action to ban the device. Why would they do that? Perhaps because they know the ATF can’t actually do anything about bump stocks.

In 2010, the ATF reviewed a request to evaluate bump stocks as a new way for people with disabilities to fire AR-15 style rifles. In a letter dated June 7, 2010, the ATF concluded that they couldn’t regulate bump stocks because the device is classified as a firearm part, and the ATF only has jurisdiction over firearms.

“We find that the bump stock is a firearm part and is not regulated as a firearm under Gun Control Act or the National Firearms Act,” the ATF wrote.

The ATF affirmed in a 2010 letter that bump stock devices are not regulated by the Gun Control Act or the National Firearms Act — meaning that the agency can’t do anything about them until Congress takes action.

Bump stocks, which can be purchased for $200 to $350 in most states, allow legal semi-automatic weapons to fire at a rate similar to automatic weapons by repeatedly “bumping” the trigger against the shooter’s finger. Technically, the shooter is still pulling the trigger every time a round is fired, meaning that the gun is still functioning as a legal semi-automatic weapon.

Unless Congress takes action to ban bump stocks, asking the ATF to review the device is a meaningless gesture — and the NRA knows that. That may explain why, when Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX) called on Congress to ban bump stocks (before the NRA released their statement), the gun lobbying group reportedly “reached out” to Flores in concern. From the looks of it, the NRA decided to take matters into their own hands before Congress had a chance to take meaningful action.

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While the NRA bypassed Congress on the issue of bump stocks, they did make a request for legislative action elsewhere, calling on lawmakers to pass “national Right-to-Carry reciprocity.” National reciprocity legislation would force all 50 states to accept the concealed carry laws of every other state, taking control away from state lawmakers and local law enforcement and making the weakest state’s standards apply nationwide. Currently, nearly a dozen states have no permit system whatsoever. In those states, anyone can carry a concealed firearm without having a permit, without going through any sort of gun safety training, and in some cases, without even passing a background check. This lax system lets domestic abusers and people recently convicted of violent crimes carry concealed weapons. And the NRA wants to force every state to accept this standard.

If the NRA actually wanted to ban bump stocks, they would have sent the issue to Congress, like they did with concealed carry reciprocity. But they don’t care about bump stocks — they’re just using the issue to distract from their push to force weaker gun laws on all 50 states. After all, if we’re talking about bump stocks, we’re not talking about how Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock purchased 33 rifles in just 12 months, or why background checks aren’t required for all gun sales, or why federal agencies haven’t been allowed to study gun violence prevention for the last two decades.

And that brings us to the issue that the NRA doesn’t want you to think about: Bump stocks are only deadly because of the weapon they’re attached to. Yes, it’s ridiculous that people can legally purchase a device to make a semi-automatic weapon function like an automatic weapon — but it’s more ridiculous that civilians can purchase military-grade weapons in the first place, and that U.S. law doesn’t require firearms dealers to report anything to federal authorities if a person is stockpiling semi-automatic rifles (they only have to report if a person purchases multiple handguns). This allows people like Paddock to acquire huge arsenals of weapons while remaining completely under the radar.

The debate over bump stocks is likely to take center stage tomorrow during the Sunday shows — and that’s exactly what the NRA is hoping for. Don’t fall for the hype. The U.S. doesn’t have a bump stock problem; we have a gun violence problem. If we’re not talking about gun laws, we’re not talking about solutions.

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