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South Carolina's capital could become the first city to ban bump stocks

The once-obscure accessory drew scrutiny after it was used in the Las Vegas massacre earlier this year

by Tess Owen
Dec 19 2017, 11:30pm

Columbia, South Carolina, could become the first city in the United States to pass a law banning the sale of bump stocks, devices that effectively turn semi-automatic rifles into rapid-fire machine guns.

The measure also proposes banning other similar enhancement accessories, including gat cranks and trigger cranks. Columbia’s city council will vote on Tuesday night, and the city’s Democrat mayor, Steve Benjamin, told VICE News that he expects it will pass.

Benjamin said he introduced the proposal because he was frustrated by state and federal inaction in the wake of the Las Vegas massacre. “We did it because it’s the right thing to do,” Benjamin said. “Tragedy after tragedy, we’ve watched people across every demographic, every age group, across the country, fall victim to senseless gun crimes.”

He wants the ordinance, if it passes, to motivate other jurisdictions considering similar measures. “We hope this will inspire other city councils and state legislatures across the country to start doing reasonable and rational policy making around guns,” he said.

The once-obscure firearm accessory became the subject of national scrutiny after authorities revealed that the Las Vegas gunman had 12 of them in his hotel room when he carried out his deadly assault on country music festival goers in October, killing 58 and injuring more than 500.

Bump stocks allow users to fire their semi-automatic rifles like an automatic, unleashing bursts of bullets with just one pull of a trigger.

Benjamin acknowledges that bump stocks were not on his radar before the Las Vegas tragedy. “I think it’s fair to say that most Americans, including gun owners — and I’m a gun owner — had never heard of bump stocks before Las Vegas.”

And firearm vendors in Columbia aren’t particularly fazed by the legislation.

“I’m not worried about it,” said Brad O’Neal, owner of The Gun Vault, a firearms store in Columbia. “It’s not gonna hurt my business.” Bump stocks make up just a tiny sliver of their revenue, O’Neal explained; they normally sell about three per year.

After the Las Vegas massacre, sporting good giants like Cabela’s and Walmart hastily removed bump stocks from their websites, and firearm enthusiasts, fearing an impending ban, began stocking up. But O’Neal said he chose to hold off ordering a new batch.

“I didn’t order any of them right away for the simple fact that I knew it would be a lot of gouging,” O’Neal said. “These are things that aren’t necessary. We try to eliminate controversy especially where firearms are concerned. We like to provide personal protection items versus something to go out and play around with.”

Palmetto Firearms, a gun range and gun shop in Columbia, never even sold bump stocks to begin with. A spokesperson for the business, who declined to give his name, said that there had never been much demand for them before the Las Vegas massacre. He said that he did receive more calls from people looking to buy the devices after the shooting, and that he wasn’t particularly surprised. He also said they have no plans to add bump stocks to their inventory, as he thinks the current interest in the devices is temporary and will fade.

If the law passes, it could potentially invite a legal showdown. South Carolina has a law preventing cities from passing ordinances that conflict with the state legislature, and passing a city ordinance banning bump stocks could be a violation of that set-up.

But Lauren Harper, Advisor of Policy and Communications at the Mayor’s office said that the bill was written in such a way that would shield it from legal challenges. Harper notes that South Carolina state law protects actual firearms, and in this case, the ordinance refers to a firearm accessory. “We are not in any way banning the use of the firearm,” Harper said. “We’re banning the use of the attachment.”

“We have crafted an ordinance that is constitutionally and statutorily sound,” said Benjamin. “We have unanimous support from our local law enforcement. It just makes sense. I feel strongly it will pass overwhelmingly, and I look forward to giving this Christmas gift to the people of Columbia.”

Columbia could be the first city in the US to ban bump stocks, but there are plenty of states where that’s already the case. New York and California explicitly ban the devices statewide, and Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Oregon ban devices that “that allow automatic fire or weapons that fire multiple rounds with a single, continuous trigger pull,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Washington D.C. and seven states also have bans on assault weapons that the organization notes “could be interpreted to include bump stocks as well.”