More than two months after the Las Vegas shooting, the deadliest in U.S. history, the Senate Judiciary committee held a long-awaited hearing addressing the bump stock devices the shooter used to kill more than 50 people and injure hundreds more.
“ATF’s authority to regulate firearms is of course limited by the terms of [the 1934 and 1968 firearms laws], and they do not empower ATF to regulate parts or accessories designed to be used with firearms,” Thomas E. Brandon, the acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), told lawmakers.
For the ATF to legally regulate bump stocks under current legislation, the devices would need to be classified as “machine guns,” Brandon indicated.
A legal review process launched this week to determine whether bump stocks fall within the definition of “machine guns” will take months.
It is possible that process produces no changes to the current interpretation of the law, Brandon said in response to a question from Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas.
ATF wrote letters in 2010 and 2013 explaining how current laws — the Gun Control Act (1968) and National Firearms Act (1934) — do not provide an avenue for the bureau to regulate the gun attachments, which enable shooters to fire semiautomatic weapons at nearly the rate of automatic ones. Federal lawmakers have not passed any gun legislation in more than a decade.
“If a device does not fall within those statutory definitions, ATF has no authority to regulate the device,” Brandon said.
The bump stock debate has ground to a halt in the House, though some lawmakers are still applying pressure on their colleagues regarding measures introduced over the last two months to regulate or ban them.
Most recently, Democratic Reps. Dan Kildee of Michigan and Dina Titus of Nevada introduced an amendment that contained prohibitive language on bump stocks to the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act that passed in the House Wednesday.
Republicans in the rules committee swiftly struck the amendment down the night before voting on the final bill.
Watch: Reporter’s Notebook: Congress Could Be at a Standstill on Bump Stocks