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Today’s news was full of speculation that a consensus is developing to ban the sale of so-called “bump stocks” of the kind used by Stephan Paddock, the perpetrator of last Sunday’s Las Vegas massacre. These are accessories that allow a semi-automatic rifle or pistol to be fired in a way that mimics a fully-automatic weapon, albeit less than perfectly. Today, even the National Rifle Association (NRA) stated its support for a regulatory review of bump stocks by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. The idea was also endorsed, more or less, by conservative writer Jonah Goldberg earlier this week in an article called “Slow Down and Think“, which was otherwise focused on the unfortunate tendency of the Left to politicize the tragedy in Las Vegas. As I’ll explain below, a bump-stock ban would be a largely symbolic concession. It would represent something of an inconvenience to gun enthusiasts; like most gun control proposals, it would have approximately zero impact on the likelihood and severity of gun violence and even mass killings in the future.

One could argue that a prohibition on the sale of bump stocks represents an erosion of Second Amendment rights. Goldberg, however, rests his position on the fact that machine guns have been banned already (not quite true), so why not? Goldberg’s not really a “gun guy”, and neither am I, but here’s how he puts it:

I am actually open to the idea that we might need tougher or better gun-control regulations. That’s an easy concession for me to make. The hard part is figuring out what those reforms would look like. One place we might start is making it harder to convert semiautomatic weapons into fully automatic ones. If it’s okay to ban machine guns, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to make it harder to turn guns into machine guns.

It should be noted that the trade of certain (pre-1986) fully-automatic weapons is not outlawed, though it is heavily regulated and very costly.

In addition to bump stocks, Goldberg is favorably disposed to changes in gun laws that would prohibit the sale of kits enabling the actual conversion of semi-automatic to fully-automatic firearms. Currently it is legal to do so. It’s not really that easy for an individual without expertise to make such a conversion, however. A poorly done job is unlikely to be durable, if it works at all. A semi-automatic equipped with a bump stock might not be very durable either, since a semi-automatic itself is not really built to fire continuously or near-continuously.

Another issue addressed at the last link is that fully-automatic weapons, when hand-held, are not terribly accurate when engaged in firing more than a few rounds at a time. Bump firing a semi-automatic, with or without a bump stock, is even less accurate. But this might have suited Stephan Paddock just fine. If he planned to target the jet fuel tanks near the outdoor venue, then the accurate targeting of a small area on a tank with repeat-fire might have helped him achieve an even more horrific objective. But if he simply planned to spray bullets into the large crowd, the degree of accuracy was less important than the number of rounds he could fire.

Nevertheless, banning the sale of bump stocks won’t stop anyone determined to rapid-fire a gun, innocently or otherwise. First, apparently a bump stock can be 3D-printed with relative ease. Beyond that, “bump firing” is a rapid-fire technique that can be performed without a bump stock, though a bump stock makes it easier. Gun enthusiasts and hobbyists sometimes desire the thrill of firing something that feels like a fully-automatic weapon. Try it sometime, they say, under appropriate supervision! Some gun owners might like to have rapid-fire capability as extra protection against violent intruders on their property, human or animal, the advent of tyranny, or a violent breakdown of civil order. That gun-control advocates would scoff at these notions surely belies their shallow knowledge of history, or perhaps it really underscores the legitimacy of concerns that go to the very heart of the Second Amendment.

I cannot endorse the proposal to ban bump stocks. I understand the rationale offered by Goldberg and the NRA’s apparent flexibility on bump-stock regulation, but my view is that steps to outlaw conversions, like gun laws in general, will be ineffective in stopping determined killers. In the end, it amounts to an additional intrusion on private behavior without any real benefit, and the symbolism of such a concession does not help the cause of defending the Second Amendment.

In general, legal guns promote public safety via deterrence and the many reported and unreported defensive gun uses (DGUs) that occur every day (see here and here). In general, I’m aligned with the view expressed this week by Nick Gillespie in “This Is the Time To Defend the Second Amendment and Less-Strict Gun Control“.