President Donald Trump issued a directive to the Justice Department to issue regulations banning bump stocks which convert semiautomatic guns into automatic weapons.
"Just a few moments ago I signed a memo directing the attorney general to propose regulations that ban all devices that turn legal weapons into machine guns," Trump said at a Medal of Valor event at the White House. Then, addressing Attorney General Jeff Sessions: "I expect these regulations to be finalized, Jeff, very soon."
The Justice Department had announced in December that it had begun the process of reinterpreting the legality of the devices.
The process is "ongoing," according to CNN, which notes that a proposal submitted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives "questioned the statutory definition of a machine gun under federal gun laws, drew more than 35,000 comments from the public, far more than usual, which likely signals that pro- or anti-gun control groups -- or both -- mobilized their membership and email lists to weigh in."
BREAKING: President Trump says he’s directed AG Sessions to clarify if bump stocks are illegal and to propose regul… https://t.co/P9Xaa7Deyv— NBC News (@NBC News) 1519160525.0
In a statement yesterday, Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said: "The Department understands this is a priority for the President and has acted quickly to move through the rulemaking process. We look forward to the results of that process as soon as it is duly completed."
During a press briefing earlier yesterday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders had spoken of Trump's decision to support legislation that would regulate bump stocks.
"The President, when it comes to that, is committed to ensuring that those devices are -- again, I'm not going to get ahead of the announcement, but I can tell you that the President doesn't support use of those accessories," Sanders said.
When asked if the president would support steps to raise the federal minimum age for buying military-style weapons, like the AR-15, which has proven itself the weapon of choice in past mass shootings, Sanders said: "I think that's certainly something that's on the table for us to discuss and that we expect to come up over the next couple of weeks."
Trump's decision earned praise, particularly from Democrats who'd felt their efforts to back gun control legislation in the wake of recent mass shootings (particularly last week's massacre at a high school in Parkland, Florida, which killed 17 people) had been stymied.
Newsweek's Kurt Eichenwald weighed in, saying that he sides with the president "when he is right" and that bump stocks "serve one purpose: To spray bullets at a crowd with machine gun speed."
I side with @POTUS when he's right. Bump stocks should have been banned years ago. You cannot aim with them. They a… https://t.co/OhmsYuhHg7— Kurt Eichenwald (@Kurt Eichenwald) 1519170737.0
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who last year introduced a measure in the Senate that would ban bump stocks, also praised the president's decision but cautioned that new agency rules could backfire because of the ATF's past stance on the devices.
If ATF tries to ban these devices after admitting repeatedly that it lacks the authority to do so, that process could be tied up in court for years, and that would mean bump stocks would continue to be sold," Feinstein said. "Legislation is the only answer. "Words are one thing, Mr. President, but we need meaningful action."
She also issued a call for the president to support her measure in a message to her Twitter followers. "If the president really wants to ban bump stocks, he will support our bill," she wrote.
If the president really wants to ban bump stocks, he will support our bill. If ATF tries to ban these devices after… https://t.co/4wTbcbpDLJ— Senator Dianne Feinstein (@Senator Dianne Feinstein) 1519168730.0
Senator Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) echoed Feinstein's call. "If this legislation were brought up for a vote, it would very likely pass with strong bipartisan support," she said.
We introduced bipartisan legislation in October 2017 to ban #bumpstocks. If this legislation were brought up for a… https://t.co/Y18cENe1N2— Tulsi Gabbard (@Tulsi Gabbard) 1519177313.0
Morning Joe co-hostJoe Scarborough, who previously served in the House of Representatives, said the president "deserves thanks for taking an important first step on gun safety laws by directing the AG to ban bump stocks."
The president deserves thanks for taking an important first step on gun safety laws by directing the AG to ban bump… https://t.co/qIkfRdrShv— Joe Scarborough (@Joe Scarborough) 1519166852.0
Trump had earlier indicated that he would support legislation that would improve the nation's gun background check system, but other gun control supporters said the president's move is a minor one, and too little too late.
Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), who took the national stage to discuss the issue after the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, said he is unimpressed. "Let’s not pretend this is some huge concession on his part,” he said. “If this is all the White House is willing to do to address gun violence, it’s wholly insufficient.”
Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, also voiced her reservations. "The devil is in the details, and it remains to be seen whether the Department of Justice will actually prohibit bump stocks, or if the White House will pull a bait and switch," she wrote.
The devil is in the details, and it remains to be seen whether the Department of Justice will actually prohibit bum… https://t.co/nfFSSnpoeF— Shannon Watts (@Shannon Watts) 1519173029.0
The president's directive came on the same day that the Florida House of Representatives struck down a motion to consider a bill that would ban assault rifles. The 36-71 vote largely across party lines rules out the possibility of banning assault rifles during the current legislative session.