In the hours after Stephen Paddock committed one of the deadliest mass shootings in modern American history in Las Vegas in the fall 2017, killing 58 people and injuring some 500 more, police who swept his hotel suite found that he had nearly a dozen bump stocks in his arsenal — devices that can be affixed to certain types of semiautomatic rifles in order to make them fire multiple rounds with each single pull of the trigger.
The incident was just the latest bit of gun-related carnage to dominate headlines in 2017, but the presence and apparent use of bump stocks in the killing spree ignited a firestorm of controversy. What were these attachments that could be used to so easily make an already lethal weapon even more deadly?
On Tuesday, the White House moved to ban bump stocks in a new regulation signed by Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker that will reportedly give current owners of the devices until late March to dispose of them.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called the move another instance of U.S. President Donald Trump “fulfilling a promise he made to the American people” after the president had vowed to outlaw the devices last March, saying they “turn legal weapons into illegal machines.”
In addition to their physical capabilities, bump stocks have presented a particular concern among gun control advocates because they are unserialized and untraceable, making it hard to know just how many of the devices are actually in circulation among the American public (the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has pegged the number of devices sold since 2010 as somewhere between 280,000 and about 520,000, according to the AP.
The regulation was hailed as a modest step in the right direction by gun control advocates. In a Tuesday statement, activists affiliated with March For Our Lives — the common sense gun reform organization formed by some of the Marjory Stoneman High School students whose lives were upturned by a deadly mass shooting in Parkland, Florida — called the move a “good first step,” but added that it “only scratches the surface of the reforms we need to end the epidemic of gun violence in America once and for all.”
“We welcome this new policy, but we cannot allow the current Administration, members of Congress, or the NRA to use this as cover while they stall on reforms that our country and communities need immediately,” said March For Our Lives co-founder and chief strategist Matt Deitsch. “Today’s ban took far too long; this was a law Americans called for following the Las Vegas shooting and every day since.”
As gun control advocates celebrated, conservatives and gun rights groups made their contempt for the rule change known.
In a statement, National Rifle Association spokesperson Jennifer Baker said that the Justice Department should provide an amnesty exemption for gun owners already in possession of bump stocks.
“We are disappointed that this final rule fails to address the thousands of law-abiding Americans who relied on prior ATF determinations when lawfully acquiring these devices,” Baker said.
The Justice Department, for its part, seems to be holding firm in its commitment to uphold the president’s mandate, vowing to fight any future legal challenge that may be brought against the rule change.