Understand bump stocks before you think about banning them

Author: Max McGuire - February 7, 2018 - Updated: February 6, 2018

Max McGuire

The average Coloradan doesn’t know a lot about guns. That is never clearer than when gun control legislation is introduced. Like clockwork, you can always expect an elected official to trot out to a microphone and explain to voters why (insert gun or gun accessory) is too dangerous for everyday civilians to own.

When this happens, the race is on to educate the public about what a gun or accessory actually is. For years, gun control advocates have equated AR-15s with M-16s, playing on the public’s fear of machine guns and ignorance of semi-automatic mechanics. AR-15s are routinely referred to as “weapons of war” and even flat-out accused of being machine guns. When one is used in a crime, gun control advocates are quick to tout its high rate of fire. We see this same trickery today in the push to ban “bump stocks.”

Gun control advocates in the Colorado legislature are actively equating bump stocks with fully automatic weapons, playing on the public’s fear of machine guns to garner support for a ban. However, the legislation they are proposing is actually written to go far beyond banning bump stocks. It would put any firearm accessory on the chopping block if it can be proven to help a shooter fire a semi-automatic rifle faster than gun control advocates believe should be possible.

A bump stock is a harmless piece of plastic that allows a shooter to harness a gun’s recoil to quickly reset the trigger and fire a subsequent shot. In normal operation, a gun is fired using a shooter’s trigger finger. Someone presses the trigger to fire a shot and then lets go of the trigger to allow it to reset. A fully automatic weapon allows multiple shots to be fired with a single trigger pull. Semi-automatic weapons, like the AR-15, require a trigger reset in between each shot. A bump stock doesn’t turn a semi-automatic into a fully automatic, nor does it allow a gun to fire any faster than it already could. It only helps a shooter fire a rifle faster than the average trigger finger’s muscles alone would allow.

During a press conference unveiling the legislation, Democratic Sen. Michael Merrifield of Colorado Springs explained that since we do not allow Coloradans to buy machine guns, they should also not be allowed to purchase devices that help them mimic a machine gun’s rate of fire.

The problem with his statement, as with so many statements from gun-control advocates, is that it is simply incorrect. Coloradans can legally purchase a machine gun in the state. It requires an additional background check through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, as well as a $200 tax, but it is still perfectly legal to buy, own and shoot a fully automatic weapon in the state of Colorado.

If this bill becomes law, it would remain legal to own a machine gun in Colorado but would become illegal to own a device that makes it easier to fire semi-automatic weapons rapidly. It would remain perfectly legal to own a full-auto machine gun, but owning a harmless piece of plastic like a bump stock would be a Class 5 felony, akin to luring a child over the internet or embezzling public property.

The legislation would ban any “device that attaches to a semiautomatic firearm and allows the firearm to discharge 2 or more shots in a burst when the device is activated.” It is not actually limited to banning bump stocks. The legislation also mentions trigger cranks as well as any other unnamed device which can help a shooter fire a semi-automatic rifle as fast as it was designed to fire.

Noticeably, the legislation doesn’t define what a “burst” is, and that is quite telling. Any gun that can fire a “burst” is already regulated under federal law as a machine gun. A burst, also known as select fire, means that multiple shots are fired with a single pull of the trigger. It is literally impossible to fire a burst from a semi-automatic rifle without breaking many federal laws and ATF regulations.

A bump stock does not cause a rifle to fire a burst. It harnesses the gun’s recoil to pull and reset the trigger, allowing the trigger to be pulled faster than the average human finger could on its own. You don’t even need a bump stock to bump-fire a rifle. Anyone with a belt-loop can bump fire a semi-automatic rifle as well.

The legislation also would ban trigger cranks, a manual device that allows a shooter to turn a handle to hit the trigger. Far from creating a machine gun, these devices turn rifles into modern-day Gatling guns. Americans have owned guns using this sort of technology since they were first used in the civil war. Ask Coloradans whether they think people should be allowed to own firearm technologies first used during the civil war and most people would say yes. Twist the technology to conflate it with modern machine guns and it is easy to see why more than 70 percent of Coloradans polled would support such a ban.

The most odious part of the legislation, however, is how it is open-ended to apply to any device that could enable a gun to be fired rapidly. Show me a device or attachment that is designed for a semi-automatic rifle and I will show you how that helps you fire it faster.

Just look at a gun’s trigger — the small lever designed to be pulled by a finger to release a firing pin. An AR-15’s trigger is usually one of the first things to get upgraded. Match-grade triggers are designed to reduce the weight of a trigger pull to allow target shooters to make accurate shots less affected by the trigger break. The primary purpose of these triggers is accuracy, not shot speed. However, by reducing the force necessary to pull a trigger, it is easily arguable that aftermarket triggers enable a shooter to fire “bursts.”

There isn’t an AR-15 device or accessory on the market that doesn’t, in some way, make it easier to fire it rapidly, which is what makes this proposed ban so dangerous.

The problem with gun-control legislation being written by firearm ignoramuses is that it is impossible to tell where ignorance ends and wile begins. I would hope that this is just the product of someone writing a bill about something they know very little about. However, it is really difficult to imagine a gun-control advocate accidentally writing such a perfect backdoor gun ban.

Max McGuire

Max McGuire

Max McGuire is a fellow in firearms policy at the Millennial Policy Center in Denver. He received his master’s degree in political science from Villanova University.