Brad Buckles was ATF director from 1999 to 2004.
When the Las Vegas shooter rained gunfire on a crowd of music fans, it didn't require marksmanship or the skillful handling of firearms. His capacity to kill and injure so many people was a function of two things: bump stocks that facilitated rapid fire and 60- and 100-round magazines that enabled sustained fire. While all of the focus has been on bump stocks — and they certainly deserve attention — those devices alone would have been close to useless if the shooter had to reload magazines after every 10-round burst.
From 1994 to 2004, it was unlawful to manufacture for general sale magazines larger than 10 rounds. The law was passed with a 10-year sunset provision, and Congress failed to renew the ban. Consequently, neither bump stocks nor large magazines are covered by existing firearms laws. They are simply unregulated accessories.
In the aftermath of the shooting, the National Rifle Association issued a statement suggesting that bump stocks should be subject to additional regulation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, since they allow semiautomatic rifles to function like fully automatic ones. My immediate impression was that the NRA was asking ATF to reverse its determination and classify bump stocks as machine gun conversion parts — and thus machine guns under the National Firearms Act and under the law that bans the sale of machine guns.
Given the technical definition of a machine gun, I didn't believe ATF could reverse its determination. Still, I was encouraged that the NRA agreed that something needed to be done. But my optimism was short lived. Shortly after the NRA's initial statement, chief executive Wayne LaPierre clarified that the group did not say "ban" or "confiscate," saying it doesn't believe bans ever worked on anything.
The NRA knows full well that, when it comes to firearm parts, ATF faces a binary choice. Parts are either entirely beyond ATF's regulatory control or, if they can be used to convert a rifle into a machine gun, they are treated by law as machine guns. Thus a reexamination by the agency can result in only two possible outcomes. It could reaffirm the determination that bump stocks are beyond regulation — something even the NRA has said is insufficient. Or it could find them to be machine guns — which, with the exception of those grandfathered in 1986, are banned — precisely what the NRA says it opposes.
Putting the onus on ATF is thus little more than a diversionary ruse. It allows the NRA to publicly voice concern about bump stocks while preserving its ability to criticize and blame others regardless how the reexamination turns out. The NRA knows that only Congress could subject bump stocks to some “additional regulation.”
What is required of the NRA is leadership, not dodges. LaPierre cynically says that all that is needed is for ATF do it its job. But the agency has done its job. If it really cares about parts that allow semiautomatic rifles to function like fully-automatic rifles, it is time for the NRA to step up.
Right now, nothing would be more effective than leadership from an organization known for its uncompromising defense of the right to own and possess firearms. Nothing would be more effective than leadership from an organization that dedicates so much of its time and money to training thousands every year in the safe and responsible use of firearms. Nothing would be more effective than leadership from an organization that is wary of the slippery slope of gun control.
I understand the NRA position on so called semiautomatic assault rifles. I don't understand its interest in protecting bump stocks and large-capacity magazines. The NRA's proverbial "good guy with a gun" will not match up well against a madman with a 60- or 100-round magazine and a bump stock.
While the NRA asserts that bans never work, the ban on machine guns, enacted as part of the NRA-backed Firearms Owners Protection Act of 1986, has certainly reduced the criminal misuse of fully automatic weapons. No ban is 100 percent effective, but the ban on machine guns has greatly reduced the odds that a criminal will be armed with fully automatic weapons. Parts that allow standard firearms to function "like" — the NRA's word — fully automatic weapons should face the same prohibitions as those that govern firearms designed to be fully automatic weapons. It is not a foolproof solution but, over time another Las Vegas-style massacre will become less likely.
The capacity to bring war-like firepower against a defenseless crowd, or against police and other first responders, is not a Second Amendment right. It is time for the NRA to be part of the solution. It should support existing legislative proposals or craft its own.
Read more about this topic: