ATF un­der Obama said law doesn’t cover de­vice

NRA state­ment in­volves bump stocks that make ri­fles more lethal.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - METRO - By Manuela To­bias Poli­tiFact

In a rare move, the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion is­sued a state­ment call­ing for reg­u­la­tion of the de­vice that turned the Las Ve­gas shooter’s ri­fles more deadly, blam­ing Barack Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion for its ap­proval.

A bump or fire stock is a de­vice that al­lows semi­au­to­matic ri­fles to “The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion ap­proved the sale of bump fire stocks on at least two oc­ca­sions.”

— Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion on Oct. 5 in a press re­lease fire bul­lets as quickly as a ma­chine gun. At least 12 of the Las Ve­gas shooter’s guns were out­fit­ted with them.

But did Obama ap­prove their le­gal­ity? Sort of, but ap­proved is prob­a­bly the wrong word.

NRA spokes­woman Amy Hunter pointed us to a June 2010 ap­proval

let­ter from ATF, an agency un­der ex­ec­u­tive purview, sent to Slide Fire, a bump stock man­u­fac­turer. Spell­ing out the le­gal def­i­ni­tion of a firearm, ATF’s tech­nol­ogy chief John Spencer de­ter­mined it was not reg­u­lated by law.

“The stock has no au­to­mat­i­cally func­tion­ing me­chan­i­cal parts or springs and per­forms no au­to­matic me­chan­i­cal func­tion when in­stalled,” Spencer wrote. “Ac­cord­ingly, we find that the ‘bump­stock’ is a firearm part and is not reg­u­lated as a firearm un­der Gun Con­trol Act or the Na­tional Firearms Act.”

Bump stocks har­ness a weapon’s re­coil to cause the user’s fin­ger to squeeze the trig­ger re­peat­edly, but be­cause they don’t al­ter the gun’s in­ter­nal mech­a­nisms, they were con­sid­ered law­ful.

We found a sim­i­lar 2012 let­ter ad­dressed to Bump Fire, a com­pet­ing man­u­fac­turer.

But just as these bump stocks didn’t qual­ify for reg­u­la­tion, two sim­i­lar de­vices did.

The dif­fer­ence? The Akins Ac­cel­er­a­tor and the Au­to­glove were de­ter­mined in 2007 and 2017, re­spec­tively, to have me­chan­i­cal parts that en­hanced the trig­ger mech­a­nism, mak­ing them ma­chine guns.

“Elec­tri­cally-driven trig­ger de­vices are con­sid­ered ‘ma­chine­guns’ be­cause they are a ‘com­bi­na­tion of parts de­signed and in­tended, for use in con­vert­ing a weapon into a ma­chine­gun,’” ATF’s let­ter to Au­to­Glove read.

Au­to­matic weapon sales have been re­stricted since the 1934 Na­tional Firearms Act, and 1986 reg­u­la­tions made it much harder for civil­ians to get an au­to­matic weapon like a ma­chine gun.

Ex­perts in firearm pol­icy were di­vided when we asked about the fair­ness of the NRA’s char­ac­ter­i­za­tion.

Adam Win­kler, a law pro­fes­sor at Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Los An­ge­les, who spe­cial­izes in guns, said it was ap­pro­pri­ate to char­ac­ter­ize the ATF an­swer to the first two com­pa­nies as an ap­proval un­der the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. “Not be­cause they liked it, but be­cause the law did not per­mit them to pro­hibit it,” Win­kler said.

Other le­gal ex­perts stressed that it wasn’t an ap­proval, but rather a de­ter­mi­na­tion that cur­rent law didn’t al­low for its reg­u­la­tion.

“The state­ment im­plies Obama or (U.S. At­tor­ney Gen­eral Eric) Holder was some­how in­volved, and that it was an is­sue that wouldn’t have been ap­proved in any other ad­min­is­tra­tion, and that’s tech­ni­cally in­cor­rect,” said Rick Vasquez, a for­mer Firearms Tech­nol­ogy Branch of­fi­cial who first signed off on the rec­om­men­da­tion the ATF could not reg­u­late the Slide Fire.

John Pierce, a lawyer and ad­vo­cate for gun rights, said, “I be­lieve (the NRA) were stat­ing that just to point out that this wasn’t some rogue de­ci­sion made dur­ing a Repub­li­can ad­min­is­tra­tion, which would be more friendly to gun own­ers, and there­fore that when they re-eval­u­ate it, they’re go­ing to have to take a re­ally close look at the law,” said

To re-eval­u­ate the bump stock, Vasquez said the ATF would have to change the way it in­ter­preted the Na­tional Firearms Act or is­sue new leg­is­la­tion that would al­low the de­vice to be reg­u­lated.

Our rul­ing

We found two oc­ca­sions in which ATF, a bu­reau within the ex­ec­u­tive branch, de­cided it could not reg­u­late bump stocks dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. These de­ci­sions al­lowed two com­pa­nies to sell bump stocks. It’s im­por­tant to note this was not a state­ment of Obama’s pre­ferred pol­icy, which called for more reg­u­la­tion of guns, but was what the agency de­ter­mined it had to do un­der the lan­guage of cur­rent law.

We rate this state­ment Mostly True.

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