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Trump administration advances ban on 'bump stocks'

To ban bump stocks, Trump is going the regulatory route that officials in two administrations have said won't work. This may prove to be a problem.
Image: Reported Shooting At Mandalay Bay In Las Vegas
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 01 People run from the Route 91 Harvest country music festival after apparent gun fire was heard on October 1, 2017 in Las Vegas,...

At a White House press conference in early October, Donald Trump boasted, "We're knocking out bump stocks. I've told the NRA. I've told them. Bump stocks are gone."

The president, added. "And over the next couple of weeks, I'll be able to write it up."

Today, as the Associated Press reported, the new policy is starting to come into focus.

The Trump administration moved Tuesday to officially ban bump stocks, which allow semi-automatic weapons to fire rapidly like automatic firearms, and has made them illegal to possess beginning in late March.The devices will be banned under a federal law that prohibits machine guns, according to a senior Justice Department official.

It's taken a while to get to this point. Bump stocks came to the fore more than a year ago, when a gunman killed 58 people in Las Vegas, firing approximately 90 rounds in 10 seconds during the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.

The White House announced a proposed ban nine months ago. It'll now go into effect 90 days after the new regulation is formally published, a move that's expected to happen later this week.

But while reform advocates are eager to see any kind of new restrictions that might save lives, today's news comes with some significant caveats.

For example, Trump's campaign manager recently said the ban on bump stocks would only apply to new purchases, not ban the devices that some Americans already have. I don't yet know whether that's correct -- the Associated Press article said current owners "will be required to either surrender them to the ATF or destroy them by late March" -- so we'll have to get a look at the specific new regulation to get a better sense of the scope of the policy.

What's more, the practical effects of this policy are likely to be rather limited. Though bump stocks were used in the brutal massacre in Las Vegas, the devices are not commonly associated with most gun deaths in the United States. A ban is almost certainly a step in the right direction, but I think most experts would agree it's a very modest step.

Of particular interest, though, is whether the new policy will withstand court scrutiny.

As we discussed in March, the Obama administration considered a ban on the devices, too, but officials concluded that new restrictions would need to be approved by Congress, rather than through new regulations created by the executive branch.

Several years later, the Trump administration's Justice Department came to the same conclusion and told policymakers that in order to ban bump stocks, Congress would need to pass new legislation.

But congressional Republicans didn't want to pass a bill. Trump is going the regulatory route that officials in two administrations have said won't work.

Watch this space.