Ryan Burns / Friday, Oct. 6, 2017 @ 3:52 p.m. / Crime, Politics
Bump Stocks: Why One Local Gun Retailer Decided Not to Sell the Device that Enabled the Vegas Massacre
A host from the TV show “Legally Armed America” displays a bump-fire stock. | via GIPHY
In the wake of Sunday’s devastating mass-shooting in Las Vegas, which left at least 58 people dead and more than 500 injured, much attention has been paid to a device called a “bump stock,” which gunman Stephen Paddock had affixed to a dozen of the rifles in his arsenal.
The firearm accessory, which replaces a standard rifle stock, allows a semiautomatic weapon to fire more than 500 rounds per minute, simulating the rapid-fire bursts of a machine gun.
Here’s how it works: When a shooter applies just the right amount of pressure, pulling the pistol grip toward himself with one hand while pushing a forward grip away from himself with the other, the rifle, when fired, will jackhammer back and forth against his shoulder and his stationary trigger finger. (See the gif below or check out this interactive graphic from the New York Times to get a visual of the technique.)
Lawmakers, including the North Coast’s state senator, Mike McGuire, have called on Congress to pass legislation outlawing bump stocks nationwide.
Veteran California Senator Dianne Feinstein and other Democratic senators quickly introduced a bill that would “ban the sale, transfer, importation, manufacture or possession of bump stocks, trigger cranks and similar accessories that accelerate a semi-automatic rifle’s rate of fire.”
A number of news stories (like this one) have reported that California is the only state in the nation where the sale of bump-fire devices is illegal, though it turns out there’s some debate about that among gun enthusiasts and dealers, even here in Humboldt County.
When the Outpost called Eureka’s RMI Outdoors to ask if they carried bump stocks we were told that they’re illegal in California and have been for many years.
But Pacific Outfitters owner Aaron Ostrom said that’s not technically true — as far as he’s been able to determine.
About seven years ago, he said, Pacific Outfitters was approached by a “mom-and-pop” distributor that was marketing bump-fire stocks, and the owners presented him with a letter from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) declaring that the devices were legal — at least at the federal level. But what about state law?
“I tried to get a statement from the DOJ [California Department of Justice] if this was a legal device, [but] they refused to make a statement,” Ostrom said. “So we brought ‘em in.”
Ostrom ordered some bump stocks, but before putting the devices on store shelves he invited a Humboldt County deputy district attorney to the shooting range on the Samoa Peninsula, where they met with the president of the Redwood Gun Club. “I wanted to get their take on [bump stocks] before we considered selling ‘em,” Ostrom said.
The deputy DA, who Ostrom didn’t identify, told him the device is probably legal, though there’s nothing to stop a law enforcement officer from hearing the rapid-fire gunshots, confiscating the weapon and arresting the shooter, who would then have to prove his innocence in court.
Such a court battle has yet to take place in California, which leaves the issue of bump stock legality here a bit muddled. Some attorneys argue that bump stocks fall under a state statute banning any “multiburst trigger activator,” but Ostrom and others say the bump stock doesn’t fit the statute’s definition because there’s still just one bullet fired per trigger pull.
[B]ump stocks leave the mechanics of a gun untouched and the trigger is still technically activated on each shot, just at a much faster rate than is possible without the modifications.
That leaves the ATF with little choice but to deem bump stocks legal under current law, said David Chipman, a former ATF agent.
“What you’re doing is you’re creating a shooting technique,” Ostrom said. “But how do you ban a shooting technique? … Shooting a semiautomatic firearm as fast as you can is not against the law.”
Regardless, he felt it would be unfair to subject one of his customers to possible arrest simply because of how a rifle with a bump stock sounds when fired. “It looks legal, but I don’t want to test that limit,” Ostrom said. “We don’t want to put our customers in that realm. For that reason we chose not to sell ‘em. But they are being sold in California. I know they were being sold in Redding.”
As for his personal feelings about bump stocks, Ostrom said he had no comment, though he went on to say that he has nothing against the device — or for it.
While lawmakers push for a bump stock ban — and even the National Rifle Association is advocating for strengthened regulations (sort of, maybe) — the device’s manufacturer reports that they’ve been overrun with orders since Sunday’s mass-shooting.