It was just a few months ago that the United States suffered its deadliest mass shooting in modern history, with a nightmarish attack in Las Vegas that left dozens killed and hundreds wounded. As regular readers know, much of the public, as usual, turned to policymakers, seeking some kind of action.
In this case, officials raised the prospect of action on “bump stocks” – an after-market modification that helps semi-automatic weapons, which are legal, fire like automatic weapons, which are already largely banned. A bipartisan bill was introduced on Capitol Hill, and even some Republicans suggested publicly that action on this issue was at least possible.
The momentum stalled quickly. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) announced that Congress would look to the Trump administration to deal with the issue with new regulations, rather than have lawmakers tackle this new legislation. Today, Donald Trump indicated he’s moving forward with a regulatory fix.
President Donald Trump has directed his attorney general to propose regulations that would ban bump stocks and similar devices “that turn legal weapons into machine guns,” he announced Tuesday.
The president, speaking at the start of a Medal of Valor ceremony at the White House, said he expected the “critical” new regulations to “be finalized soon.”
It’s worth clarifying a few things. First, today’s presidential remarks didn’t actually change any policy; Trump instead suggested we’ll eventually see a change in policy once new regulations are complete. What will the new regulations say? We don’t yet have any details.
Second, this afternoon’s announcement wasn’t altogether new. The Justice Department began its review of bump stock regulations two months ago. Trump’s specific direction to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, however, is new.
And finally, let’s not forget that as recently as late December, the New York Times reported that Justice Department officials “have indicated they do not believe the department can regulate the sale of gun bump stocks without congressional action.”
In other words, congressional Republicans want Trump administration officials to deal with this, and Trump administration officials believe they can’t deal with this unless congressional Republicans act first.
So what happens now? Maybe Trump’s ATF will complete its review and kick the ball back to Capitol Hill. Perhaps the administration will create new regulations without Congress, which will leave the policy vulnerable to a legal challenge.
The easiest solution here would be for Trump to call on Congress to take up the pending bump-stock legislation, which would be the quickest route between here and a new policy. But so far, the White House hasn’t endorsed this approach.