Some Mich. GOP lawmakers open to ‘bump stocks’ ban

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — At least six Michigan Republicans in Congress say they are open to federal restrictions on bump fire stocks, which are the attachments used by the Las Vegas gunman to make semiautomatic weapons fire faster.

The little-known devices allowed the gunman in Sunday’s massacre to modify his semiautomatic rifles to fire at nearly the rate of a machine gun, without actually converting the firearms to a fully automatic weapon.

Bump stocks are not prohibited under federal or Michigan law. Private citizens may not legally possess fully automatic firearms manufactured after 1986, and must get federal approval for machine gun models made before 1986.

GOP Reps. Mike Bishop of Rochester, Paul Mitchell of Dryden, Dave Trott of Birmingham, Tim Walberg of Tipton, Fred Upton of St. Joseph and Bill Huizenga of Zeeland signaled Thursday that they would consider legislation on bump stocks.

For years, Republican leaders have resisted gun-control legislation in Congress. But the National Rifle Association said Thursday it would be asking the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to review whether the devices comply with federal law.

Upton, who is mulling a run for the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate, said he is working with other House members on a letter to the ATF urging a re-evaluation and ban of bump stocks, which the agency in 2010 and 2012 determined complied with federal law.

“In the wake of the horrific tragedy in Las Vegas, it’s clear that we cannot with a straight face justify the legality of these tools that can so easily be manipulated to do unimaginable harm and are specifically designed to get around the automatic weapon ban,” Upton said in a statement. “There is no place for them in a civil society. None.”

Mitchell, who owns multiple firearms and is a lifelong member of the NRA, said, “Any mechanical device that circumvents existing federal law on automatic weapons is of great concern and needs to be addressed.”

Trott said it’s important for Congress to address the issue and that he plans to work with colleagues on legislation to “limit devices that allow legal semiautomatic firearms to be modified to perform like illegal fully-automatic weapons.”

A spokeswoman for Bishop, a former prosecutor, said he is “committed to being part of a bipartisan solution to further regulate bump stocks, and stop the modification of semiautomatic rifles into illegal automatic weapons.”

A spokesman for Walberg said the congressman, a gun owner and outdoorsman, was previously unaware of bump stocks and “believes that they should be looked at with greater scrutiny.”

Huizenga, an avid sportsman, said he believes in a “strong and robust” defense of the Second Amendment, but that a discussion on bump stocks is “appropriate.”

“Equipment that modifies legal firearms to the point where their rate of fire becomes synonymous with fully automatic weapons needs to be examined,” he said in a statement.

How bump stocks work

Sunday’s massacre left 58 people dead and more than 500 injured at an outdoor country music concert in Vegas — the deadliest mass shooting in modern history.

The bump stocks used in the shootings were created supposedly to help people with disabilities fire guns. But gun experts have said they are difficult to use.

Rep. Brenda Lawrence, a Southfield Democrat, has called on her colleagues to take action. She has co-sponsored a bill with Rep. David N. Cicilline, D-Rhode Island, to ban the manufacture, possession, transfer, sale or importation of bump stocks.

“Enough is enough. The American people need more from Congress than simply their moments of silence,” she said in a statement.

“This is not a partisan issue. This is about American lives.”

Rep. Dan Kildee, a Democrat from Flint Township, said he is working on gathering a group of bipartisan lawmakers to collaborate on legislation about bump stocks.

“From my point of view, any mechanism that renders a single-shot weapon into, essentially, a machine gun should be outlawed,” Kildee said in an interview. “The average person can’t go buy a machine gun, so you shouldn’t be able to buy something that turns another gun into a machine gun either.”

Michigan law generally prohibits any person from manufacturing, selling or possessing a device designed to convert a semiautomatic firearm into a fully automatic firearm, but a bump stock device technically doesn’t convert a weapon.

The bump stock replaces a standard stock. The shooter’s trigger finger is in a fixed position, and the recoil energy from the kickback of the weapon causes the rifle to move back and forth at a rapid rate and “bump” the trigger against the finger repeatedly.

“It’s still technically semi-automatic because it fires once with each operation of the trigger,” said Steve W. Dulan, an East Lansing attorney who teaches firearms law at West Michigan University Cooley Law School. “It comes at the expense of accuracy, too.”

The Michigan State Police confirmed that if the device uses the recoil energy to assist the shooter in “rapidly performing multiple functions of the trigger resulting in multiple corresponding shots, it would not meet the definition of a prohibited ‘machine gun’ under the Penal Code,” spokeswoman Breanna Moore said.

“In such situations, every single shot fired would necessarily be caused by a separate (albeit assisted) function of the trigger.”

Dulan, who sits on the board of the advocacy group Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners, said most serious shooters think bump stocks are “goofy.”

“This was such a shock to everybody basically because, first, of the tragic nature of it but also because I don’t know anybody (who) has done any serious shooting with these,” he said.

State lawmakers cautious

Michigan legislative leaders are more cautious on the issue. State House Speaker Tom Leonard said Thursday he is unsure about bump stocks.

“I’m willing to look at anything,” Leonard told reporters. “But at the end of the day, I am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. I truly don’t believe that bad people are going to abide by more gun laws. We need to focus on our mental health system and really get help for those that need it most.”

State Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, said he did not see the need for any regulatory action in Michigan, suggesting any response to the Vegas shooting should focus on the suspect, not the weapon.

“The tool can’t do anything by itself, so it’s the individual,” he said.

State Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, said he’d like to see Congress ban bump stocks on the federal level.

“I don’t think they’re needed. I don’t think they were needed before the Las Vegas massacre, but I certainly don’t think they’re needed now,” said Jones, the former sheriff of Eaton County.

Michigan’s Republican-led Legislature has moved to loosen gun restrictions in recent years. The state House in June approved controversial legislation that would allow legal firearm owners to carry concealed guns without a permit or training required under current law.

The Michigan Senate has not taken up the bill, but Meekhof is not ruling out the possibility of action during the two-year session, which runs through 2018.

“The timing isn’t right yet,” he said. “When it is, we’ll be able to find some way to move a bunch of gun legislation, I hope, and maybe (the concealed weapon bill) will be part of it.”

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Staff Writers Jonathan Oosting and Michael Gerstein contributed.