'Like A Machine Gun' Isn't A Machine Gun

AP Photo/Allen G. Breed, File

Ever since Las Vegas, bump stocks have been horrifically demonized. Granted, the Las Vegas shooting was horrific enough that it shouldn’t surprise us that it did.


Soon after, the ATF reversed their decision that they weren’t machine guns.

That reversal came at the direction of then President Donald Trump. He did that, at least in part, to cut the legs out of an effort in Congress that would have gone a lot further than bump stocks and binary triggers. It could have screwed up any trigger modifications for any reason.

Regardless of the reason, though, the ATF actually overstepped their authority, so it’s not surprising that it triggered a lawsuit.

Now, it’s headed to the Supreme Court and Elie Mystal at The Nation has thoughts.

On Friday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear another gun case. That alone should make people hide under their desks at school, because at this point in our bloody republic, every time the Supreme Court decides to entertain the gun lobby, more children are likely to die.

The case involves a challenge to the federal ban on “bump stocks.” Bump stocks are a modification that can be attached to semiautomatic rifles to make them perform as fully automatic weapons. A shooter pulls the trigger to fire the weapon, and the bump stock uses the recoil from that action to pull the trigger again and again, resulting in a near continuous rate of fire, just like a machine gun.

The issue is “like a machine gun” and “machine gun” isn’t the same thing in the least. Especially not in the eyes of the law.

The ATF doesn’t have broad authority to just create law. It has the power to interpret laws passed by Congress, but it can’t just make up law as it goes.


Otherwise, ATF Director Steve Dettelbach could just mandate the assault weapon ban he’s said he wanted.

He can’t do that because there’s nothing in the law that allows for that.

What the ATF did with bump stocks, though, is not much different from a mandated assault weapon ban because the justification used doesn’t actually fit with bump stocks.

Machine guns are defined as any weapon that fires more than one round with a single pull of the trigger. A bump stock doesn’t do that in any way, shape, or form. It simply facilitates pulling that trigger a lot faster.

I have never heard a reasonable argument for why a sportsman or a hunter needs to turn their rifle into a machine gun with the use of a bump stock to kill Bambi’s mom. The only purpose of a bump stock is to kill as many people as possible, as quickly as possible. That is, in fact, how a bump stock was used in the 2017 Las Vegas music festival mass shooting. Aided by bump stocks, shooter [killer’s name redacted], 64, was able to fire 1,058 bullets from 15 of the 24 different weapons he brought with him to Vegas, killing 60 people and wounding hundreds more. He did this in around 10 minutes.

First, I’d guess that no sportsman or hunter is going to give you a “reasonable argument” why they need a machine gun for hunting. Full-auto isn’t ideal for deer, after all.

But the thing to remember is that the Second Amendment has nothing to do with hunting. The militia clause that so many people think justifies gun control actually makes it clear what the Second Amendment is about.


So whether it’s useful for hunting or not is irrelevant.

Now, let’s talk Las Vegas since Mystal seems determined to bring that up. Again, it was awful and no one wants to see a repeat of it.

However, there are a few things Mystal and people like him need to understand about that whole thing.

First, bump stocks weren’t exactly new when that happened. There hadn’t been a single mass shooting reported with one before Las Vegas.

Further, bump stocks just make bump fire easier to facilitate. You can still bump fire with the help of things as simple as a rubber band.

Despite that, we haven’t had another mass shooting that used bump fire since Las Vegas, despite it making it “like a machine gun.”

So even that argument kind of falls apart.

Yet even if it didn’t, that’s not how the law works. Mystal is lawyer. He should know that. He should also see the dangers of demanding that the law be twisted like the bump stock ban twists the machine gun definition.

No matter how uncomfortable it makes people “like a machine gun” isn’t a machine gun, and anyone who tries to think similarity to a thing inherently makes it that thing is just reaching.

Join the conversation as a VIP Member