Bump Stocks and the Second Amendment

Nearly half of Americans favor “more restrictions on the current process of purchasing a gun.” Ironically, the United States has approximately 5 percent of the world’s population, but owns somewhere in between 35-50% of the civilian-owned firearms in the world. This can largely be attributed to the protection provided by the Second Amendment. But what does the Second Amendment protect, and specifically, does that protection extend to bump stocks on semi-automatic rifles?

On October 1, 2017, a gunman fired more than 1,100 bullets from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas into a crowd of around 22,000 people. At the end of the rampage, the gunman had killed 58 people and injured 546 others. In the shooter’s hotel room, authorities found 14 AR-15 and 10 AR-10 assault rifles; 100-round magazines accompanied the majority of the rifles.

AR-15’s are semi-automatic rifles, which means that one trigger pull is equivalent to the firing of only one round. Automatic guns allow shooters to continue shooting until the magazine is empty by holding down the trigger. In 1986, the federal government banned the sale of new fully automatic weapons, but automatic weapons which pre-dated 1986 are still legal for civilians to own. At least 40 states have further outlawed automatic weapons in some manner.

The audio from the Las Vegas shootings “initially suggested the sound of an automatic weapon.” This is because the 14 semi-automatic AR-15’s used by the Las Vegas shooter were all equipped with bump stocks. Bump stocks harness a gun’s natural recoil, thereby essentially converting semi-automatic guns into automatic ones, allowing shooters to “fire dozens of rounds in seconds.”

After the Las Vegas shooting, even the National Rifle Association issued a statement claiming that “devices designed to allow semi-automatic rifles to function like fully-automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations.” Congress introduced a bill to ban bump stocks, but it seems unlikely that any further action will be taken on the proposed federal legislation.

While the Supreme Court held in 2010 that “the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates the Second Amendment,” states still retain a limited power to restrict the possession and use of firearms. There are ten states which have promulgated legislation outlawing either bump stocks or devices which can be used to convert guns to being fully automatic. The legitimacy of these prohibitions have not been directly addressed by courts as of yet, but the criminalization of “automatic firearm conversion devices” have been upheld.

Therefore, bump stock technology does not seem to merit protection by the Second Amendment. Currently, six states have enacted laws prohibiting the possession of semi-automatic, military-style assault weapons, while seven states ban the purchase of high-capacity magazines. Under existing federal court precedence, bans on machine guns, semi-automatic assault rifles, large-capacity magazines, and “automatic firearm conversion devices,” have been upheld.

As bump stocks are similar to the guns and firearm paraphernalia not protected by the Second Amendment, it seems as if bump stocks can be similarly restricted by legislative bodies.

While making bump stocks illegal may go a long way towards ensuring that gun owners cannot skirt around automatic firearm bans, either the federal government or a larger number of states should step in to illegalize bump stocks uniformly. Furthermore, a more efficient approach of minimizing the risk of mass shootings would be to prohibit either the semi-automatic firearms or the large-capacity magazines which make such shootings possible.