“Bump stocks,” devices that can convert regular rifles and semi-automatic guns into assault weapons, are in the process of being banned for sale or possession by the state Legislature. The device was used in the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, the tragedy in Las Vegas about two months ago.
A state Senate bill, S-3477, which would ban accessories including bump stocks and “trigger cranks,” was approved Monday by the budget committee. An identical bill in the Assembly was voted out of committee at the end of November; the final legislation will go to a full Senate vote in the coming weeks. It is unknown if Gov. Chris Christie will sign it, as he has vetoed gun-control bills in the past.
Under current New Jersey law, it is illegal to possess a machine gun or an assault firearm. Gun owners are also prohibited from owning components designed to convert a gun into an assault weapon (including bump stocks). The new legislation would make it illegal to possess a bump stock or trigger crank at all, regardless of whether an individual owns a gun. Under the new legislation, the penalty for possessing a bump stock or trigger crank would be the same as if someone possessed an assault firearm or machine gun.
The bill would also make it a crime to manufacture, transport, ship, sell, or dispose of a bump stock or trigger crank in the state. Those who already own a bump stock would be allowed to voluntarily surrender their accessories to a law enforcement agency within 90 days of the bill’s effective date. Licensed manufacturers and retailers would have 30 days to voluntarily surrender their bump stocks or trigger cranks.
Why ban bump stocks?
A bump stock, sometimes called a “slide stock,” works by harnessing energy from the weapon’s recoil so instead of having to pause between shots to pull the trigger, the gun uses its own recoil to fire more bullets in a shorter period of time. Normally, a gun fires one bullet per trigger squeeze; with a bump stock however, a gun can fire 400 to 800 rounds per minute. A trigger crank gets the same results but uses a lever or crank function. These modifications can be bought online for around $100 and are relatively simple for gun owners to install.
These accessories are controversial, particularly since having been used in some of the most deadly mass shootings in recent history. The gunman in the Las Vegas shooting killed 59 people and wounded hundreds of others from a hotel window using a powerful weapon reportedly outfitted with a bump stock. He also had 12 additional weapons in his hotel room fitted with the accessories.
Proponents of the bill say banning bump stocks is necessary and overdue.
“There is no legitimate use for these devices other than to increase the killing power of the weapons they are designed for,” Senator Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), a cosponsor on the bill said in a press release. “No single law can prevent all the gun violence, but we need to use the tragic lessons of these cases to make our communities safer. Keeping these devices out of circulation is an obvious lesson from the Las Vegas tragedy.”
Senator Ray Lesniak (D-Union County), the bill’s sponsor, says he intends to get the legislation on to the governor’s desk before both he and Christie leave office in January.
Putting the bill on Christie’s desk is a bit more of a risk than waiting for the new Phil Murphy administration to come into office, as Murphy made gun control a key promise during his campaign. However Lesniak says the sooner the better.
“Why not now?” Lesniak said. “Why would we wait? While Congress is twiddling its thumbs, New Jersey will step up. Every day that goes by somebody can buy one of these things and potentially do a lot of harm.”
The case against the bill
Even in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, banning bump stocks hasn’t been adopted nationwide as a solution to the country’s gun violence problem. If the new legislation passes, New Jersey will only be the third state to have such restriction on the books. Massachusetts and California have also banned the components.
Opponents of the bill say it isn’t an effective way of combating gun violence and instead places the onus and blame on gun owners. The legislative advocacy branch of the National Rifle Association takes issue specifically with the penalty for disposing of a bump stock — after 90 days.
“This bill is clearly not about reducing crime or addressing public safety.” The NRA-ILA wrote in a statement on its website last week, “The narrow 30-day amnesty period is nothing short of punitive. These individuals purchased a legal product and this bill seems nothing more than an attempt to ensnare honest citizens rather than target real criminals.” Owners of the accessory would be given 90 days to hand them over to law enforcement.
In October immediately after the Las Vegas shooting, the NRA put out a statement calling on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (BATFE) to immediately review whether bump stocks comply with federal law. They wrote “the NRA believes that devices designed to allow semi-automatic rifles to function like fully-automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations.”
The NRA also currently bans the use of bump stocks at many of its gun ranges due to safety concerns.