This morning, Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker signed the Trump Administration’s new regulation banning bump stocks.
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The Administration’s main contention continues to be that language of the National Firearms Act and Gun Control Act—which has not needed clarification in some 80 years—is ambiguous in regards to bump firing, a contention we dispatched back in June. Yet the government is attempting to use this supposed ambiguity to shoehorn bump stocks into a statute that regulates possession of machine guns.
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Regardless of what public opinion is at this moment, the law means what it says. The executive branch has the power to interpret existing law, not write new ones. The administration argues, essentially, that because the statute did not provide a separate definition of the terms “automatically” and “function,” that it gets to insert their own meaning. That simply isn’t the case. Administrative interpretations are supposed to do just that—interpret existing law—not give new meaning to an old one.
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If the government really wants to regulate bump stocks, it needs to do so by passing a new law, not by assigning new meaning to an old one.
The administration’s ruling may satisfy gun-control advocates but political expediency is not the way to do it.