Just How Does the ATF Plan to Enforce Its “Bump Stock” Ban?

Dec. 21, 2018
by Bob Adelmann

Following the announcement of its “final rule” on banning possession of “bump stocks,” a Department of Justice official was asked how they intended to enforce it when it becomes effective in March. He replied:

We anticipate that the general public will be compliant with the law.

To the extent someone chooses not to comply with the law, we will treat this as we do with all firearms offenses. We will prioritize our resources to maximize public safety, focusing on those that pose the greatest threat. We will enforce the statute based on the circumstances of the individual case as we do with all firearms law.

Would officials from the BATFE (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, usually referred to as the ATF) go door to door? He answered:

We have no plans to go door to door nor do we have the resources. The Department of Justice primarily relies on voluntary compliance by citizens. Most firearms owners are law-abiding citizens. We anticipate compliance with the law. Those who choose not to comply with the law we will investigate on a case-by-case basis. There is not a blanket plan here.

The ATF is right about one thing: they certainly don’t, at the moment, have the resources. With scarcely 5,000 total employees and an annual budget of less than $2 billion, a door to door campaign to confiscate the estimated 500,000 plus bump stocks that Americans currently legally own would be laughable.

Based on previous experience with such bans, the ATF should know that the ban on bump stocks is unenforceable. So why do they make such veiled threats, suggesting that good American gun owners will willingly turn over their bump stocks and “large capacity” magazines and other such related accoutrements as the agency in its imperial wisdom declares suddenly to be illegal?

There are about 130 million households in the U.S., and about 40 percent of them have a firearm present. That’s 52 million households where one or more occupants own one or more firearms. The enforcement issue therefore, in the ATF’s wisdom, must for the moment at least be based upon voluntary compliance.

How is that going?

In New Jersey, anti-gun lawmakers passed a law banning possession of “large capacity” (more than 10 rounds) magazines, requiring owners to turn them in or destroy them. The law gave them 180 days to comply. That period expired on December 11. According to New Jersey State Police not a single one of New Jersey’s million-plus gun owners had turned in a single such offending magazine.

Those lawmakers tried earlier, banning possession of bump stocks. Those gun owners had until the middle of April to “turn ‘em all in” (in Dianne Feinstein’s words) or destroy them. The deadline passed without a single bump stock having been voluntarily surrendered.

In Colorado’s “People’s Republic of Boulder,” gun banners went for a trifecta, banning possession not only of “assault weapons” but “high capacity” magazines and “bump stocks” as well. Readers remember this was reported here in an article published on December 7, titled “Jon Caldera, Freedom Activist, Defies Boulder’s Gun Ban” (see Sources below for the link). Under that law’s grandfather clause, gun owners had until December 27 to certify their ownership of such items. Of the estimated 150,000 firearms that would be affected, according to the Boulder Police Department, by December 1 the department had certified just 85 of them.

Connecticut and Massachusetts bans have been equally ineffective. So much for voluntary compliance.

That the ATF is out of line is evidenced by the numerous complaints and lawsuits filed against the bump stock ban’s “final rule.” When the initial rule was opened for public comment last spring, the NRA-ILA commented on some of its many flaws. First, Congress (not the ATF) defined the definition of a “machinegun” as “any weapon which shoots, or is designed to shoot, or can be readily restored to shoot, automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger.” So, claimed the NRA, only Congress can change that definition, not the ATF.

Second, that law “sets forth a mechanical test, not a performance-based standard [which instead] focuses on the rate of fire.” Thirdly, this new definition reverses years of rulings by the ATF that specifically claimed that bump stocks didn’t convert semi-automatic firearms into “machineguns.” Said the NRA, “Unmodified semi-automatic firearms have never been considered ‘machineguns’ for purposes of federal law.”

The NRA saw the danger of allowing this arbitrary and capricious ruling to stand:

[If] however [the] ATF proceeds with this rulemaking, it is important that the distinction between semiautomatic firearms and machineguns remains clear. There are tens of millions of semiautomatic firearms currently possessed by law-abiding Americans.

Suddenly and retroactively banning them as “machinegun[s]” under federal law would create a number of very serious constitutional, legal, and practical problems.

A lawsuit filed by three pro-Second Amendment groups in California complained that “ATF’s abrupt about-face on this issue … smacks of agency abuse … in following the law.” It cited a court ruling from 1983 when it was ruled that “a sudden and profound alteration in an agency’s policy constitutes [a] ‘danger signal’ that the will of Congress is being ignored.”

The complaint added:

The Final Rule would violate fundamental constitutional protections against retroactive imposition of criminal punishment under ex post facto principles….

What is more, in connection with its failure or refusal to provide for the proper form of public discourse before adopting the Final Rule (as one of the many ways in which the ATF flouted the requirements of the Administrative Procedures Act) the ATF failed or refused to respond to Plaintiff’s valid request for pertinent information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)….

In other words, the complaint charges the ATF with deliberate reluctance to provide the requested documentation on how the agency decided to reverse its decades-long definition concerning bump stocks.

At bottom is the problem gun banners have with the word in the Second Amendment: infringe. That amendment reads “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”


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Infringe is defined by the Cambridge English Dictionary as “to act in a way that is against the law or that limits someone’s right or freedom.” The Legal Dictionary expands the definition so that no one may misunderstand what the Founders intended:

Infringe (a verb): abuse a privilege, abuse one’s rights, advance stealthily, aggress, arrogate, breach, break, break bounds, break in upon, break into, commit a breach, impinge, impose, infract, interfere, interlope, invade, meddle, overstep, seize wrongfully, take liberties, transgress, trespass, use wrongfully, usurp, violate, violate a contract, violate a law, violate a privilege [or] violate a regulation.

It doesn’t matter that there are only about 500,000 bump stocks owned by American gun owners, and so therefore such a “final rule” can be safely ignored by the rest of them. What matters is the precedent it sets if the “final rule” becomes operative in March. If the ATF can arbitrarily declare that bump stocks turn semi-automatic weapons into “machine guns” and therefore fall under the NFA (National Firearms Act of 1934) and the GCA (Gun Control Act of 1968) prohibitions, then what’s to keep them from redefining semi-automatic rifles and pistols into illegal firearms under those laws as well?

That’s why the ATF has likely bitten off much more than it can chew. As the NRA correctly noted above: “Suddenly and retroactively banning [bump stocks] as “machinegun[s]” under federal law would create a number of very serious constitutional, legal, and practical problems.”

Here’s the question the ATF is indirectly asking America’s law-abiding gun owners: just how many of you living in those 52 million households with firearms present will voluntarily surrender your now-illegal firearms and accessories when an ATF agent shows up at your door?

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Sources:

Statista.com: Number of households in the U.S. from 1960 to 2017 (in millions)

Stats on the ATF

APNews.com: Trump administration moves to ban bump stocks

McAlvanyIntelligenceAdvisor.com: Jon Caldera, Freedom Activist, Defies Boulder’s Gun Ban

TownHall.com: DOJ, ATF Are About to Find Themselves in Court Over the Newly-Released Bump Stock Ban

FreeBeacon.com: Trump DOJ Announces Bump-Stock Ban, Confiscation

Details of the new “rule”

COMMENTS OF THE NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION ON ATF’S PROPOSED RULE TO AMEND THE DEFINITION OF “MACHINEGUN”

Complaint – Violations of the Administrative Procedures Act, and U.S. Constitution and Statutory law

HuffingtonPost.com: So States Ban Bump Stocks. Now How Do They Enforce the Law?

Cambridge English Dictionary: Definition of infringe

The Legal Dictionary: Definition of infringe

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