Area gun advocates are advising caution for owners of bump stocks, which allow semi-automatic weapons to fire continuously and will become banned on March 26 if no other action is taken.
Those violating the rule will face up to 10 years in jail and $250,000 fines if they are caught possessing them. If the ban goes forward, owners will be forced to destroy their bump stocks or turn them into law enforcement, but officials advise owners to not take those steps yet because there is time for challenges.
The final rule by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was published Wednesday in the Federal Register, redefining the devices as “machineguns.”
The devices became a key focus of the gun-control debate after they were used in the mass shootings in Las Vegas during October 2017, where a man shot attendees of an outdoor country-music concert from a hotel room above them. President Trump called for the ban in February.
ATF spokesperson Suzanne Dabkowski, who works in the Columbus field division and grew up in Hamilton and Monroe, said penalties will be stiff after the scheduled March 26 ban begins.
“At the point that this goes into effect, that classifies those bump stocks as machine guns, so it would be the penalty for having an unregistered machine gun,” Dabkowski said.
Owners can destroy their bump stocks by melting them, smashing them or otherwise demolishing them. Dabkowski said it is not permissible to “destroy” them in a way that they can be easily reassembled.
The ATF intends to have a program in which it will accept bump stocks from people wanting to turn them in, but those details have not been worked out. Also, some police departments may decide to accept them, but Dabkowski did not advocate turning them in to police just yet, because the ruling is so recent, most departments have made no plans on accepting the devices.
A prudent thing for bump-stock owners to do, she said, would be “monitor” what is happening in coming weeks before destroying or turning them in, because “once you destroy it, obviously, or once you turn it in to ATF, once we figure out how to do that, we can’t give it back.”
Dean Rieck, executive director of the Buckeye Firearms Association, said his organization is disappointed there are no exceptions to the federal rule. The government could have allowed owners of existing devices to keep them, for example. Machine guns are banned, but owners of them before laws passed decades ago were allowed to keep them, he said.
The penalty “could be up to 10 years in prison, or a quarter-million dollars in fines, or both,” Rieck said.
“Basically, they’re saying, ‘Give them back to us — hand them in — or destroy them. Period,” he said.
His association has sued Cincinnati and Columbus over bump-stock bans. It won its case against Columbus, but that is under appeal. No decision has been made in the Cincinnati lawsuit.
“We’re very disappointed with this (federal) ruling,” Rieck said. “We urge people to submit comments to tell them not to do this.”
Rieck argues forcing people to turn in bump stocks or destroy them may be a constitutional issue because the devices are being taken without financial compensation for their value.
The organization Everytown for Gun Safety was pleased with the decision. It had encouraged supporters to submit tens of thousands of comments in favor of the ban and noted in a statement that “more than 64 percent of comments expressed support for regulating bump stocks.”
Darryl Hadfield, a federal firearms licensee of the 3 Guy Supply gun store in Sharonville who has the authority to sell new machine guns to the government and law enforcement, said he agrees it is prudent for people to wait before destroying their devices.
“I think that’s probably a good approach,” he said. “I would agree with that. Don’t destroy your personally possessed property until it’s clear” the ban will happen. On the other hand, “If those lawsuits fail, I would say absolutely, a law-abiding citizen does have a legal responsibility to divest themselves of that property in an approved fashion.”