Outraged Massachusetts gun-advocacy groups are considering legal action to block a new state law that forces gun owners to surrender their bump stocks and trigger cranks by Feb. 1 or face criminal prosecution.
Gun owners in Colorado and Delaware might soon be calling their lawyers, too.
“When the government sends you a letter telling you that you have to turn in property that you legally purchased, without compensation, people get pretty twisted about that,” said Brent Carlton, president of Commonwealth Second Amendment (Comm2A).
“There seems to be a very obvious constitutional violation here,” he said. “If the government banned leaf blowers and told people to turn them over, they’d want their money back.”
The Gun Owners’ Action League (GOAL), in a January blog post, called the new law “illegal and unconstitutional.” GOAL also said the “most egregious” part of it was that “owners of bump stocks and trigger cranks have only one legal path to follow, turning the device into the police.”
“There is no mention as to how an individual who chooses to comply with this law will be able to show proof that they did,” the blog also noted. “There is no mention about what the police will do with these devices upon receiving them.”
The new law, which was the first of its kind in the nation, was approved after the Las Vegas massacre. The shooter was said to use a bump stock to create nearly automatic gunfire, allowing him to shoot more than 1,100 rounds into a crowd of 22,000.
Fifty-seven were killed. More than 540 were wounded.
The Massachusetts law defined a “bump stock” as “any device for a weapon that increases the rate of fire achievable with such weapon by using energy from the recoil of such weapon to generate a reciprocating action that facilitates repeated activation of the trigger.”
A “trigger crank” is said to be “any device to be attached to a gun that repeatedly activates the trigger of the weapon through the use of a lever or other part that is turned in a circular motion.”
Anyone caught with a bump stock or trigger crank in Massachusetts could be sentenced to as little as 18 months behind bars or even life in prison.
“There are no exceptions to this prohibition for licensed firearm owners: a firearms ID card, a license to carry, or even a license to possess a machine gun will not authorize possession of a bump stock or a trigger crank,” Daniel Bennett, Massachusetts Secretary of Public Safety, wrote in a December letter that went out to gun owners.
While efforts to pass similar federal legislation in Congress collapsed a month after the Las Vegas massacre, gun owners in Colorado or Delaware could soon face an order nearly identical to what their compatriots in Massachusetts are dealing with.
A Delaware state House committee began considering legislation Jan. 24 that would outlaw bump stocks without being quite as draconian as the Colorado anti-bump stock law.
The Delaware proposal, offered by House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, would make the possession of bump stocks a class E felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. But the proposal would not force gun owners to surrender bump stocks they already own.
The question of what to do with existing devices that let guns shoot more bullets is not addressed.
“Each individual person has the right to decide what they want to do with their bump stocks,” Rep. Longhurst said. “I’m not going to dictate to them what they should do with it, and I think it’s up to each individual to decide how they don’t possess a bump stock.”
But possession of a bump stock or similar device would be a felony. Longhurst said she would be open to any ideas offered in the form of an amendment that would provide a path for gun owners to surrender the equipment without penalty.
Democratic Colorado state Sen. Michael Merrifield proposed legislation that would ban the purchase or sale of bump stocks or any other device intended to allow a shooter to fire more bullets faster.
Merrifield reminded reporters after introducing SB 51 on Jan. 23 that M-16 machine guns are illegal in Colorado.
“So why should the purchasing and installation of a kit that turns a legal weapon into an illegal weapon be legal?” Merrifield said. “If we can make it more difficult, even for a moment, to turn a legal weapon into an illegal one, why not try?”
Colorado gun advocacy organizations might not have to hire constitutional attorneys after all.
Senate President Kevin Grantham is one of the Republican lawmakers expected to do their best to stop Merrifield’s proposal, even though one of the GOP politician’s relatives was among the survivors of the Las Vegas massacre.
“(It is) irrelevant whether I had someone there or I didn’t have someone (at the concert) – the principle is the same,” Grantham said.
“This won’t save a single soul,” Grantham also told the Denver Post. “This won’t help the problem that they perceive. I think all it does is infringe on somebody’s ability to operate within their Second Amendment rights.”