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Trump to take steps to ban bump stocks
President Trump said Tuesday he has directed the Department of Justice to propose regulations that would ban bump stocks, devices that allow semi-automatic guns to be modified to shoot hundreds of rounds per minute.
"We can do more to protect our children. We must do more to protect our children," Trump said during the announcement at the White House.
Trump's decision comes days after 17 people were killed in a school shooting in Florida. The killings have increased pressure on Trump and lawmakers in Congress to do something about the epidemic of mass shootings in the United States.
Bump stocks came to the forefront of the gun control debate after the deadly mass shooting at a Las Vegas music festival in October that left nearly 60 dead and more than 500 injured. The gunman in that incident allegedly used a bump stock device while firing rounds on the crowd of concert-goers from a hotel room above them.
It does not appear that a bump stock device was used in the Florida shooting, nor does it appear a prohibition on the devices would have stopped that shooter.
Still, Trump's remarks illustrate a desire on the part of the White House to show action on the issue of guns as students from the school and around the country demand change.
After the deadly Las Vegas shooting, Trump said he directed Attorney General Jeff Sessions to clarify whether certain bump stock devices like the once used in Las Vegas are illegal under current law.
"That process began in December and just a few moments ago I signed a memorandum directing the Attorney General to propose regulations to ban all devices that turn legal weapons into machine guns," Trump said Tuesday.
"I expect that these critical regulations will be finalized, Jeff, very soon."
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president doesn't support the use of bump stocks and the White House expects further action in the coming days.
"He ordered the Department of Justice and the ATF to review the regulation of bump stocks," she said. "My understanding is that review has been completed and movement will take place on that shortly. But the president, when it comes to that, is committed to ensuring those devices ... The president doesn't support the use of those accessories."
The announcement from Trump comes as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has yet to decide whether it will create new restrictions for the attachment that enables a semiautomatic rifle to fire at a faster rate.
ATF put out a notice of proposed rulemaking in December announcing its plan to interpret the statutory definition of "machinegun" in the National Firearms Act of 1934 and Gun Control Act of 1968 to clarify whether certain devices, commonly known as "bump fire" stocks, fall within that definition.
ATF, however, said it has to gather input from the public and industry first. Since then the agency has received more than 36,000 comments on the issue. Most of the responses were in opposition to any new rules on their sale or use.
In the memo to Sessions Tuesday, Trump ordered the Department of Justice to "dedicate all available resources to complete the review of the comments received, and, as expeditiously as possible, to propose for notice and comment a rule banning all devices that turn legal weapons into machineguns."
"Although I desire swift and decisive action, I remain committed to the rule of law and to the procedures the law prescribes," he wrote.
"Doing this the right way will ensure that the resulting regulation is workable and effective and leaves no loopholes for criminals to exploit. I would ask that you keep me regularly apprised of your progress."
Ian Prior, a spokesman for the Department of Justice, which oversees ATF, said the agency understands this is a priority for the president and has acted quickly to move through the rule-making process.
"We look forward to the results of that process as soon as it is duly completed." he said in a statement.
The announcement comes as lawmakers on Capitol Hill are trying to decide what to do to curb gun violence.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) called Trump's move a "small, but vital step."
"Sign after sign this week that we've hit a fulcrum point in this debate where politicians are, for the first time, scared on the political consequences of inaction on guns. Small, but vital step in the history of our movement," he commented on Twitter.
Susan Dudley, a former Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) administrator who is now director of the GW Regulatory Studies Center at George Washington University, said Trump is likely within his authority in ordering Sessions to issue the rules.
"As long as ATF has statutory authority, the president can direct the attorney general to issue regulations, but they would have to go through notice and comment," she said.
But not everyone is convinced ATF can regulate the device without an act of Congress.
"If ATF tries to ban these devices after admitting repeatedly that it lacks the authority to do so, that process could be tied up in court for years, and that would mean bump stocks would continue to be sold," Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said in a statement Tuesday.
"Legislation is the only answer."
The bill Feinstein introduced with two dozen other Democrats in November calls for a ban on assault weapon and high-capacity ammunition magazines in addition to bump stocks.
The National Rifle Association has said bump stocks should be subject to additional regulation but has opposed legislation to ban the device.
In a statement Tuesday, the gun lobby said it cannot comment until an actual rule is published with specifics it can review.
"The NRA's stance on this issue has not changed," NRA Spokeswoman Jennifer Baker said.
"Fully-automatic weapons have been heavily regulated since the 1930's, but banning semi-automatic firearms and accessories has been shown time and again to not prevent criminal activity and simply punishes the law-abiding for the criminal acts of others."
Jonathan Easley contributed to this report.
Updated at 6:00 p.m.