The ATF official who was in charge of determining the legality of bump stocks has come out to defend the agency’s initial ruling in the face of fierce criticism after the mass shooting in Las Vegas.
Rick Vasquez, the assistant chief of the ATF’s Firearms Technology Branch at the time of the Slide Fire bump stock evaluation in 2010, told The Trace that he and other analysts conducted extension tests on the devices, which use the recoil from semi-automatic rifles to make them fire at nearly the same rate as fully automatic weapons.
Earlier this month, Las Vegas police found that bump stocks were fashioned to rifles used by gunman to kill 58 people and injure hundreds more in the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
Back in 2o10, after months of testing, the ATF concluded that the bump stock did not turn semi-automatic weapons into fully automatic weapons, as the trigger still had to be engaged in order for the weapon to fire.
“We could not find a way to classify it as a machine gun,” Vasquez said. He also shared with The Trace a document in which he explained the agency’s decision. The crux of the argument went as follows:
The Slide Fire does not fire automatically with a single pull/function of the trigger. It is designed to reciprocate back and forth from the inertia of the fired cartridge. When firing a weapon with a Slide Fire, the trigger finger sits on a shelf and the trigger is pulled into the trigger finger. Once the rifle fires the weapon, due to the push and pull action of the stock and rifle, the rifle will reciprocate sufficiently to recock and reset the trigger. It then reciprocates forward and the freshly cocked weapon fires again when the trigger strikes the finger on its forward travel.
After lengthy analysis, ATF could not classify the slide fire as a machinegun or a machinegun conversion device, as it did not fit the definition of a machingun as stated in the GCA and NFA.
The ATF then sent Texas company Slide Fire a determination letter stating that their bump stock devices would be categorized as attachments and thus legal to sell.
After the mass shooting in Las Vegas, that decision has been fiercely criticized by Democrats and Republicans alike. Some have introduced bipartisan legislation that would ban the devices, while House Speaker Paul Ryan and the National Rifle Association said the ATF should conduct an immediate regulatory review.
“We think the regulatory fix is the smartest, quickest fix, and I’d frankly like to know how it happened in the first place,” Ryan said at a Wednesday press conference.
During an appearance on CBS’ Face the Nation on Sunday, NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre blamed the ATF for blurring the line between semi-automatic and fully automatic weapons.
“It’s illegal to convert a semiautomatic to a fully automatic. ATF needs to do its job. They need to look at this and do its job,” LaPierre said.
Previously, LaPierre and Chris Cox, the NRA’s head lobbyist, issued a joint statement that also blamed the ATF and threw shade at former President Barack Obama.
“Despite the fact that the Obama administration approved the sale of bump fire stocks on at least two occasions, the National Rifle Association is calling on the [ATF] to immediately review whether these devices comply with federal law,” they said in the statement.
Vasquez said he found the comments troubling and defended the agency’s ruling.
“We did the right thing by the letter of the statutes,” he said. “There’s a tragedy that happened and nothing can change that. But to try to put the blame on us, it really irritates me.”
Vasquez added that Obama had nothing to do with the approval process and noted the former president advocated for stricter gun regulations during his tenure. He also reiterated that he and his team consulted all applicable laws when determining the bump stock’s legality.
When asked if the devices should now be banned, Vasquez said, “It’s not my place to make that call.”