The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ request for comment on the regulation of bump stocks yielded an overwhelming response.
As reported by The Hill, more than 36,000 messages were received by the bureau from December until late January.
An analysis from firearms network The Trace showed that an overwhelming majority of comments were firmly against the device’s regulation. Of the 32,000 comments combed over by the non-profit organization, only 13% advocated tightening access to the rifle accessory.
Bump stocks came under scrutiny following the Route 91 Harvest music festival shooting in October. Gunman Stephen Paddock shot 58 people dead from a high-level hotel room and wounded hundreds more. The total casualty count, including injured survivors, totaled close to 1,000.
Paddock was meticulous in his planning, aiming to inflict widespread terror on the concertgoers.
Several of the semiautomatic firearms found in the shooter’s suite were outfitted with bump stocks – attachments which fit onto the butt of rifles, harnessing the weapon’s natural recoil to simulate automatic fire.
The Trace’s findings may come as a surprise, considering the reaction conservative lawmakers and firearm advocates had following the October 1st massacre. A handful of Republican legislators – as well as the National Rifle Association – proposed a clamp-down on bump stocks. Few on Capitol Hill seemed inclined to support an accessory which has little value outside the infliction of violence.
“If you actually look at the request the ATF put out – and the questions they asked – this was structured toward the industry,” said David Chipman, senior policy adviser at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Chipman is also a retired ATF agent.
Since bump stocks aren’t regulated, The Hill recounts Chipman as saying, the government’s largely in the dark concerning their manufacture – how they’re constructed, what they’re typically used for, and who’s making them.
“We all know that there is going to be another thing that happens. If they propose a rule, we’re going to have another opportunity to comment on the rule they propose,” he said.
Per The Hill, the “notice of proposed rulemaking” issued by the ATF “is the initial step in a regulatory process to interpret the definition of machine gun to clarify whether certain bump stock devices fall within that definition,” wrote the agency in a Federal Register submission.
Among the requests for public feedback were simple bits of information – how bump stocks are advertised, their cost, and what sort of economic impact may occur if they’re reclassified as “machine guns.”*
Public polls cited by The Hill indicate that the brunt of Americans support a curtailment on sales. Upwards of 70% of citizens polled by Quinnipiac University and an Ipsos-NPR survey said the devices should be banned outright.
The Trace attempts to explain the discrepancy between polls and the ATF comments, which seem diametrically opposed in their results.
“The results of our analysis showcase a paradox of the gun debate. While widespread public support exists for many gun regulations and policies – from bump stocks to background checks – pro-gun advocates are significantly more active than their counterparts when it comes to engaging politicians and government agencies,” read the report.
*– neither source elaborated on the means by which bump stocks, a firearm accessory, could be considered “machine guns”