Congress Likely to Defer to Firearms Bureau on Bump Stock Ban

'There’s a big regulatory question,' Speaker Paul D. Ryan said Thursday

Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., speaks at a news conference in Maryland on Thursday. (Thomas McKinless/CQ Roll Call)

CHESTERTOWN, Md. — Don’t expect Congress to take a quick vote banning bump stocks, the device that allowed the Las Vegas gunman to shoot his semi-automatic rifles at a rate resembling the rapid fire of a fully automatic weapon.

Speaker Paul D. Ryan said Thursday at a press conference here that he and many other lawmakers are just learning of the existence of bump stocks.  Congress first needs to examine how they are even allowed under current law, the Wisconsin Republican said, suggesting that a regulatory fix may be preferred over congressional action.

“Fully automatic weapons have been outlawed for many, many years,” Ryan said. “This seems to be a way of going around that. So obviously we need to look at how we can tighten up the compliance with this law so that fully automatic weapons are banned.”

The National Rifle Association on Thursday issued a statement saying it believes bump stocks should be subject to additional regulations.

“Despite the fact that the Obama administration approved the sale of bump fire stocks on at least two occasions, the National Rifle Association is calling on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) to immediately review whether these devices comply with federal law.”

The NRA’s statement did not mention anything about potential congressional action. GOP lawmakers, hesitant to be on record on gun control issues, are likely to prefer a regulatory ruling banning the devices.

“There’s a big regulatory question,” Ryan said. “And then we just have to do more research to find out what’s the best way to make sure that the spirit of the law is upheld.”

Ryan did not say whether that “best way” would be a regulatory ruling or a statutory change, requiring a vote of the Congress.

“We all have to get more educated as to what these are, how they became available in the first place, was it a regulatory misstep by ATF some number of years ago?” he said. “We all know and believe that fully auto weapons are illegal. And so is this a big gap that needs to be closed, and if so how to close it? We’re all just beginning to go through that analysis.”

While Ryan waits on additional analysis, one of his members is readying legislation.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo said he is getting close to introducing a measure to restrict access to bump stocks and that he’s been “overwhelmed” by the Republican interest. 

UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 5: Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., speaks with reporters as he walks down the House steps after the last votes of the week on Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., speaks with reporters as he walks down the House steps after the last votes of the week on Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017. Curbelo is looking at pushing a legislative package that would ban bump stocks, tools used to make semi-automatic weapons automatic. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Asked if the bill would fully ban bump stocks or just regulate access to them, Curbelo said the language will depend on the consensus of the GOP coalition he’s building. 

“My personal preference is to ban these deadly devices,” he said.

Maryland GOP Rep. Andy Harris, who was in Chestertown Thursday with Ryan to tour Dixon, a valve manufacturing plant, and talk taxes, said he believes ATF can fix the bump stock issue through regulations. But if ATF determines a statutory change is necessary, Congress will likely have no issue providing that, the House Freedom Caucus member said.

Other conservative lawmakers, like Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, have made comments similar to Harris’s.

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