A federal ban on bump stocks went into effect in late March, roughly 18 months after a gunman perched in a hotel room overlooking a country music festival fired more than a thousand bullets into a crowd, killing 58 concertgoers and injuring 700 others in the span of 10 minutes.
On that October night in Las Vegas in 2017, bump stocks were introduced to the nation. Using the $200 attachment, it allowed his semi-automatic weapons to function similar to fully automatic guns by using the weapon’s recoil to fire bullets at a higher rate at the expense of accuracy.
Of the 24 firearms found in the gunman’s room, 14 were assault-style weapons equipped with the rapid-fire attachment.
What happened next was something that has rarely happened in Washington in recent years: Lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans — found consensus and worked together in 11 states to outlaw bump stocks and other modifiers that make semi-automatic weapons fire faster.
The nationwide ban officially went into effect March 26. Since then, local law enforcement agencies are not seeing gun owners surrender their bump stock weapon attachments, even though it’s now a felony to own one. Officials from the Toledo Police Department and the Lucas and Wood county sheriff’s offices told The Blade they’re not aware of any bump stocks turned in to their offices.
And whether anyone in Michigan or Ohio has turned in a bump stock to federal law enforcement is unclear. The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Ohio and Michigan are not recording numbers.
“We’re not trying to track it because there are different ways [to surrender them],” Ohio ATF spokesman Suzanne Dabkowski said. “They can turn it into ATF, another law enforcement agency, or destroy it. And that number won’t capture everything.”
Jeremy Stein, president of Connecticut Against Gun Violence, said banning bump stocks is a good move that could prevent future tragedies. However, he is concerned the ATF and law enforcement won’t do all they can to ensure bump stocks are eradicated. He said bump stock purchases increased in the past year after President Trump floated the idea of banning bump stocks.
Connecticut acted swiftly following the Las Vegas incident and banned the attachments in October, 2018. Mr. Stein helped write the law.
“The president could have asked Congress, but he didn’t do that,” Mr. Stein said. “He waited a year and change. There was a sale spike as soon as the president announced he was looking to have the ATF ban it. Now we’re in a situation where people own them and they’re not tracking the sales. Unless people track the sales of who bought them, it’s going to be very hard [to enforce].”
The Blade reached out to multiple gun shops to ask if they sold bump stocks at any point and what they did with the leftovers. The stores did not respond to interview requests.
Ms. Dabkowski said bump stocks were considered a firearm part and were never serialized, meaning it’s nearly impossible for ATF and law enforcement agencies to know who might have them. Many believe the devices were more of a novelty item and may not exist in large quantities, although the Department of Justice estimates 520,000 were purchased between 2010 and 2018.
“I have never heard of any TPD officer coming into contact with a bump stock attached to a semi-automatic weapon,” Toledo Police Chief George Kral said. “If people can keep them without being found out, they could, but I don’t know if that’s the case.”
Said Michigan ATF spokesman Ronnie Dahl: “The number of abandonments to ATF would not provide an accurate number of compliance.”
ATF representatives in Washington did not respond to questions about how many bump stocks have been turned in nationwide, or whether anyone has been charged with possession of a bump stock.
The Trump Administration directed the Justice Department to impose the ban in December, which gave bump stock owners 90 days to surrender or destroy the devices. That time period was up March 26, and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law days later in a one-sentence decision following a request from gun rights groups.
Now anyone still in possession of a bump stock is committing a felony.
“The bump stock is now classified as a machine gun, so you have an unregistered machine gun at this point,” Ms. Dabkowski said. “The court system would ultimately decide whether to prosecute and they would decide on the penalty.”
U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman Mike Tobin said the maximum federal penalty for possessing a bump stock is 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine, although receiving the maximum penalty is rare.
Chief Kral said if bump stocks are found by his officers, the matter will be referred to the Lucas County Prosecutor’s Office.
“We would take it like any other evidence,” he said. “We would book it and our detective would investigate just like any other felony.”
The Buckeye Firearms Association disagrees with the federal ban and takes issue with the lack of a buy-back program.
“We don’t think the ban is constitutional,” spokesman Joe Eaton said. “The taking of private property without compensation should not happen. But we do ask our users and supporters to follow the federal law.”
A spokesman for the National Rifle Association did not respond to a request for comment.
Lucas County Sheriff John Tharp supports the move, although he said his office did not see many bump stocks when they were legal.
“I don’t know what use the average citizen would have with the bump stock,” Sheriff Tharp said.
The bump-stock ban is the first significant piece of gun regulation legislation to take effect since a 10-year assault weapons ban expired in 2004. The U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill 240-190 in February requiring background checks on all weapons purchases, but it appears unlikely Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will allow a vote in the Senate.
Mr. Stein said addressing gun control at the local level is the only effective method.
“Data shows the states with the strongest gun laws have the lowest rates of gun deaths,” Mr. Stein said. “Until we have a Congress and president proactive about this, the states have to act. You’d think Sandy Hook would have done it. It took New Zealand six days to do what we couldn’t do in six years.”
Ms. Dabkowski said owners of bump stocks can still turn them in to the ATF by setting up an appointment with their local field office. Toledo’s field office can be reached at 419-245-5115.
© 2019 The Blade (Toledo, Ohio)
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