Mass Shootings: Let’s Ban Bump Stocks!

Fig 1 — “Shooty thing that makes guns shoot faster”

TIM! TIM! We’re finally gonna DO SOMETHING about mass shootings! I’M GONNA BAN BUMPFIRE STOCKS!

What? I don’t… Gah. Fine, whatever. I really don’t care.

What? You don’t care if we ban them?

No. Go ahead and try.

I hereby declare you may not buy a SlideFire(TM) bumpstock in Maryland!

…cool, so I can start a new company and call it something different? Slipgrip has a nice ring to it. It does the same thing, but it’s just a grip and not a stock.

No! That’s cheating! I declare you can’t buy anything like a bumpstock, either!

Please describe what “like a bumpstock” means.

Oh come on, everyone knows what I mean! It makes the gun shoot faster.

My patented “Slipgrip” doesn’t make the gun shoot faster. So it’s not banned?

NOOOO! You can’t skirt the law! >:C

I’m not skirting the law, you just can’t describe what you want to ban. Remember when in 2013, you tried to ban AR-15’s? How’d that work out for you?

…people are still buying them. :(

Shocking! You remember when I said terminology was important? Your ignorance is starting to hurt your cause.

… <8C

Do you want me to help?

ok ;~;

First, let’s take a look at how Maryland wrote their proposed law, HB888. Specifically, I will be citing line 28, page 3.

Never mind that they might as well have called it “Shooty Thing That Makes Guns Shoot Faster”. This law doesn’t do what you think it does. What does “rate of fire of a firearm” mean? And what devices or parts could affect that?

Before we discuss bumpstocks, we need to understand a far more fundamental principle. What is the “rate” of something? Most often, we use it to describe the frequency that something happens. And now I’m getting excited, because this is a math term. I get math. (Mostly.) Let’s look at some examples of rate.

Rate of travel is pretty easy to understand. Speed is the measure of how much time it takes to drive a certain distance. The higher your speed, the more distance you can travel in the same period of time. Obviously there are different systems for measuring distance and time — but miles and hours are commonly understood units, and provide comfortably sized whole numbers, like 55 MPH.

In order to measure rates like speed, you need to look at a window of time. If your morning commute is 15 miles, and it takes you 20 minutes, you could say your speed was 45 MPH — although most people would say this is more representative of your average speed. Police officers are much more interested in how fast you’re driving “this instant”. Mathematically speaking, this is slightly impossible. If the window of time is “zero seconds” (truly instantaneous)… it’s complicated. You’re dividing by zero. Bad things happen in math when you divide by zero.

However, all is not lost. If I can measure the distance you travel in the time it takes to blink an eye, that’s close enough to “instantaneous” for me. (This is effectively the fundamental theorem of calculus, by the way.) The way police officers do this is with a LIDAR gun.

Simply put, LIDAR measures the distance to an object by firing a beam of light and measuring the time it takes to strike the object and reflect back. Note that this is only distance! In order to measure speed, the gun does this again and again over very short periods of time — far less time than it takes to blink an eye. If you travel 30 feet in the blink of an eye, your speed is 60 MPH.

(For further reading, you may be interested in the solution to Zeno’s Paradox of Motion… but I’m already in too deep.)

Concerning guns, there’s a seemingly insignificant, yet interesting change. Travel is a continuous process, but firing a bullet is a discrete process. That is to say, I can drive half a mile, but I can’t fire half a bullet. For a discrete process, rate is the amount of time for a cyclic event to complete and start again. If the event does not start again, it doesn’t make sense to talk about rate.

Consider a stapler. The process begins when you press the plunger: one staple is applied to the stack of papers. The process ends when you release the plunger. It is not cyclic. You can wait an infinite amount of time for another staple, but it will never come. You can’t measure the time between staples, because there is only one staple. A stapler does not have a rate of fire.

Now certainly, I can mash the stapler as fast as I want— but there’s a significant difference here. We’re talking about how fast I can staple, not how fast the stapler can staple. If I fashion the stapler in the shape of a hammer and duct tape two back to back, I might be able to staple twice as fast, but I’d also look like an idiot, and get nothing done.

Maryland’s proposed law specifically bans parts that “accelerate the rate of fire of a gun”. By definition, this means we are talking about fully automatic rifles. For a gun to have a rate of fire, it must fire more than one bullet per trigger pull.

From an engineering standpoint, it does make sense to talk about increasing the rate of fire — just not in the way you’d expect. An engineer would talk about making the moving parts lighter or installing stiffer springs so the process takes less time to repeat, thereby increasing the rate of fire — but you didn’t want to ban springs, did you?

A bumpfire stock cannot not increase the rate of a semi-automatic rifle, because a semi-automatic rifle does not have a rate to increase. It might increase the rate of the shooter, but the law doesn’t say anything about that. I guarantee you, if you pass this law the way it is written, there will be someone in Maryland who considers that this law does not apply to their new system, and begins to market it as something other than a bumpstock.

Really, what you want to ban is something more like this.

I’ll admit, that actually took several revisions to write. One draft I put together actually banned all semi-automatic firearms. The part about “designed for a semi-automatic weapon” is important, because without it, the law bans rubber bands and belt loops. It’s still flawed, but far less so than Maryland’s first attempt which arguably does nothing.

Now that we have a better term, what are we doing with it?

Cool thing part one: they listed manufacturing. It’s pretty simple to make an “inertial assistant” with belt loops or a rubber band, so if we really want to ban these things, manufacturing should be illegal as well. (Of course, by the time someone’s decided to go on a shooting spree, telling them not to buy rubber bands or wear pants is a moot point. They’re determined to do what they’re gonna do, and there’s only one way to stop them.)

Cool thing part two: they specified transport into the state. This means someone traveling through the state with a bumpstock doesn’t get arrested, but prohibits someone from buying a bumpstock where it is legal, and bringing it to where it is not. (Looks like Maryland at least learned from their magazine capacity laws, as everyone just buys them out of state and brings them home.)

But possession — that’s an interesting problem to tackle. If we want this law to be effective, we should make sure cases don’t get thrown out for violating ex-post facto principles. If what you possess is currently legal, the government may not say “I know we said it was ok, but we changed our mind, and you’re now a criminal”. What are we going to do for the people who already own such devices?

Mandatory buy backs are gonna be a sticky subject, and my understanding of eminent domain and the 4th Amendment is pretty poor. As a way of “reaching across the isle” though, we could grandfather in existing owners with a registry, make another law that it’s illegal to possess or use an unregistered device, and another law that they can’t be transferred to another party, only surrendered for destruction. (How generous of us!)

What do we do for people who don’t register their devices? You could go the New York State route and make anyone who doesn’t register a felon, but there will be plenty of people who either don’t know about the law, or forget that they own such a device. Mens rea is kinda important. Perhaps a fine, unless we can show they intentionally didn’t register.

There. Now you know how to ban bumpstocks. Start with a good definition, grandfather in existing owners with a registry, and ban the transfer, manufacture, and import of such devices.

As far as a gun owner like me is concerned, it’s a good thing that the gun control crowd is ignorant, and can’t describe what they want to ban. In 2013, Maryland tried to ban the AR-15. However, the people who wrote the law were largely unaware that AR-15s can be pistols, and only banned rifles. At the time of writing, you can still buy an AR-15 in Maryland, which I consider to be — well, better than nothing at all.

If you want a good laugh, look at the abomination that is a “California Compliant AR-15”. With every attempt to ban rifles, someone makes a new design that obeys the law, leaving legislators pulling their hair out, and spouting incomprehensible gibberish about what to ban next.

These were his actual words. But he was being very earnest. At least he’s trying.

This isn’t the only half baked law currently proposed. There’s a proposal to revoke drivers licenses for people found to be on school campuses with firearms — sit and think about the inanity of that for a few seconds. Another proposal still stubbornly clings to spent shell casing laws, the dead idea that keeping a copy of the bullet casing will somehow solve crimes. At this point, I might as well propose a ban on violent video games. Look ma, I’m doing something about gun violence!

By and large, I’m sick of the rhetoric. Gun control supporters accuse me of “doing nothing”. They shout me down for trying to explain the difference between semi-automatic and fully automatic, and tell me it doesn’t matter. They wave their ignorance around like a banner, write a law that looks like a piece of swiss cheese, and then pat themselves on the back for “doing something”. But when the next spree shooting happens, it’s not their ineffective laws that are the problem, it’s gun owners!

At the end of the day, if you write a comically bad law that accomplishes nothing and pat yourself on the back, this is a problem. It’s like convincing a cancer patient homeopathy will help them get better, and feeling good about yourself because you did something to help. That makes you far more guilty of perpetuating spree shootings than I am for simply having a right and wanting to defend it.

Maybe teaching you these things will bite me in the butt. Maybe I’m just helping you eat away at the Bill of Rights, but I’m sick and tired of death by a thousand cuts by ignorant people who refuse education. Until then, I’m going to wager everything on one premise: knowledge and understanding will eventually produce a better result for everyone in the long run.

If you really want to ban bumpstocks, then fine. Do it. But for my sanity, please do it right the first time.

EPILOGUE: Are you happy, now? You banned the thing. Good job, A+. When are we gonna start talking about why people commit spree shootings?

I said earlier, I don’t want to argue gun control or gun rights any more. (Somehow, I lost my resolve and wrote this. Mostly to highlight the problem of rampant ignorance on the gun control side.)

Here’s my final take away point, and what I’d much rather spend time and effort discussing. If you wanna be real, it doesn’t matter if you put up armed guards at schools, or magically ban all guns. That’s just treating the symptoms of violence, and not the cause. Meanwhile, the problem will continue to get progressively worse.

Tim builds circuit boards in Virginia Beach, and enjoys writing about current events, history, theology, and philosophy.

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