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Congress, not Trump, must ban bump stocks

In the wake of yet another mass shooting at a school — this one in Parkland, Fla., leaving 14 students and three staff members dead — President Donald Trump floated several proposals in response to the violence.

They called for arming teachers and giving them bonuses for carrying concealed weapons, raising the age for purchasing assault rifles to 21, and conducting stricter background checks and banning bump stocks.

His proposals have received a tepid response from Congress. Last week, the president doubled down; in a bizarre televised meeting with lawmakers from both parties, he called for comprehensive gun control legislation, including provisions that would set background checks for weapon purchases at gun shows, a higher buying age and rules meant to make schools safer. At one point, Trump even suggested skipping over due process by taking guns from mentally ill people first and sorting the situation out later.

That drew a rebuke from U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska, who said: “We’re not ditching any constitutional protections simply because the last person the president talked to today doesn’t like them.”

Trump criticized Republican senators, saying that they were “petrified” of the National Rifle Association but that he was not.

Republican lawmakers were stunned and flustered, according to news reports. One called the session on Wednesday “surreal.”

But Trump has thought out loud in public before, only to walk his ideas back or decline to push them when it came to passing legislation — as he did with the bipartisan “Dreamers” proposal.

Trump also reaffirmed his plan to ban bump stocks without any action by Congress. That is perhaps the biggest “nothing burger” in his proposals concerning gun control.

The president last month issued a directive to the Justice Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, calling on them to come up with a rule “banning all devices that turn legal weapons into machine guns.”

“Although I desire swift and decisive action, I remain committed to the rule of law and to the procedures the law prescribes,” Trump said in his memo to the attorney general. “I would ask that you keep me regularly apprised of your progress.”

Let’s see if we can help you out with that Mr. President: the answer you will get from the ATF is “no.”

Yes, bump stocks accelerate the rate of fire of a semi-automatic weapon by using the recoil to “bump” the rifle forward into the shooter’s immobile finger. That was demonstrated viciously and effectively in the Oct. 1 mass shooting in Las Vegas outside the Mandalay Bay resort, when Stephen Paddock rained death upon innocent concert-goers from his perch in a hotel tower, killing 58 people and wounding another 500.

Yes, they should be banned.

But the ATF has already ruled that the bump stock has “no automatically functioning mechanical parts and performs no automated functions when installed” and that, under federal law, it lacks the authority to regulate them. It ruled on them twice, in 2010 and 2012, during President Barack Obama’s administration.

President Obama was no stranger to using executive orders to stretch the limits of his powers. We would think that, if it had been at all possible, he would have directed ATF to ban bump stocks.

Unless President Trump has a magic pen, we doubt that simply changing administrations will change the law. If the president succeeds in getting ATF to issue a bump stock ban, it will almost assuredly end up in prolonged legal battles. The first bit of evidence in such a dispute will be ATF’s previous rulings.

Banning bump stocks is the job of the legislative branch. Congress should take that up immediately — perhaps instead of only sending out thoughts and prayers for the next gun massacre victims. Trump should use the power of his bully pulpit to make that happen and not wait for the “comprehensive” gun control legislation he supported last week, which may or may not happen.

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