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After the Vegas shooting, many wanted bump stocks banned. Thousands told the feds not to.


Before October, most people who aren't gun enthusiasts had never heard of bump stocks.

When a gunman used the rifle accessory to kill 58 people at a concert in Las Vegas, everyone was talking about them and many called for their regulation.

But when The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives asked the public for comment on their regulation, the response was overwhelmingly against the idea.

A bump stock is an attachment for a rifle that can be used to accelerate the speed of fire on a rifle, turning a semi-automatic weapon into something that fires more like a fully automatic machine gun.

An NPR-Ipsos poll found 82 percent of Americans supported regulating bump stocks after the Vegas shooting and members of Congress in the House and the Senate introduced legislation to do so.

Last year, the ATF requested comments from manufacturers, retailers and consumers to determine how regulating bump stocks would impact the industry. The bureau was flooded with nearly 36,000 comments by the time the comment period ended late last month and most of the comments were strongly against regulation.

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Only 13 percent of the comments were in support of regulation, according to an analysis by The Trace.

"The number of comments flooding in show that the intensity is on the pro-gun side," Erich Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America told Circa.

But some experts say the comments don't accurately represent public opinion on bump stock regulation because critics jumped into the debate before the government had actually proposed a rule to regulate them.

The ATF's request posed 23 questions, mostly directed at manufacturers and retailers, with the intent on gaining information about the sale and marketing of the devices. Only three questions were posed to consumers and none of them asked consumers for their opinion on whether or not bump stocks should be regulated.

But many commenters took the opportunity to use the questionnaire as a platform to criticize any form of regulation on bump stocks.

"I think what really happened is those who don't want the government in this space at all, they pulled the trigger too quick," said David Chipman, senior policy advisor at Giffords and a former ATF agent.

According to The Trace, nearly a third of the responses mirrored form letters provided by Gun Owners of America and The Giffords Law Center Law Center to prevent gun violence.

Many gun rights advocates argue that anyone can simulate automatic fire without a bump stock, and banning bump stocks would would be a slippery slope to other forms of firearms regulation, something they consider to be an infringement on their Second Amendment rights.

Pratt said that banning bump stocks based on the idea that they increase the rate of fire on a weapon could lead to bans on gun magazines.

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"We could foresee a future anti-gun, Democrat president saying, 'well you know, having a 30-round magazine helps you accelerate the fire much more quickly than three 10-round magazines,'" he said.

Chipman said the ATF has likely already drafted regulations on bump stocks, but when those regulations are released they will be subject to another public comment period. He said he expects the debate in those comments to be much more robust.

The bigger issue, Chipman says, is the pace of the regulation since the process of rulemaking through ATF is much slower than if Congress passed new legislation.

"This is just a cynical approach by people who don’t want anything done and that’s whats happening. This is just running out a lot of time. The reality is if they were serious, they would pass legislation," he said.

Congressional change isn't likely. Although several Republican members of Congress did call for regulations on bump stocks in the wake of the Vegas shooting, those voices went silent after the National Rifle Association said the ATF should regulate them instead.

The NRA did not respond to a request for comment.

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