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ATF eyes regulating rifle 'bump stocks,' like those used in Las Vegas massacre

In this Oct. 4, 2017, photo, a device called a "bump stock" is attached to a semi-automatic rifle at the Gun Vault store and shooting range in South Jordan, Utah. The slaying of five dozen people at a Las Vegas music festival did little to change American opinion about the nation's gun law. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

The Justice Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives this week took its first step to regulate so-called “bump stocks” attachments that turn semi-automatic weapons into machine guns like those used in the Oct. 1 Las Vegas massacre.

The ATF said it plans to quiz makers, gun sellers, users and the general public on the special stocks easily added to AR-style rifles that are currently unregulated.

But in its notice, the ATF did not indicate that it is considering a ban. It had previously said that it would not regulate the devices.

The move follows calls by the arms industry to consider regulating bump stocks. After the shooting that left 58 concert-goers dead, the National Rifle Association said it “believes that devices designed to allow semi-automatic rifles to function like fully-automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations.”

And the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the industry’s trade association, also called for a regulatory review of the device popular with target shooters.

Bump stocks replace standard AR- and AK-style rifle stocks and use the kickback to speed shooting. The Las Vegas shooter had rifles adapted with bump stocks.

In the past, the ATF has determined that the stocks do not fall under its machine gun regulations. If it decides to make a change, then getting bump stocks will become extremely difficult.

In its notice, ATF said, “Following the Las Vegas shooting, a significant amount of public attention has been focused on bump stock-type devices. ATF has received correspondence from the general public and from members of both houses of Congress requesting that ATF reexamine its past classification decisions concerning bump stock devices to determine whether they should be classified as machineguns…”

It added that its move is “the initial step in a regulatory process to interpret the definition of machinegun to clarify whether certain bump stock devices fall within that definition. If, in a subsequent rulemaking, the definition of machine gun under section 5845(b) is interpreted to include certain bump stock devices, ATF would then have a basis to re-examine its prior classification and rulings.”

ATF issued several questions to manufacturers, including asking if new regulations would hurt sales or a company’s bottom line. And it asked if companies thought selling bump stocks to police and military would provide a benefit.

Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com