One of the pioneers of bump stock devices is warning owners not to turn them over to the federal government thoughtlessly ahead of this week’s deadline for doing so under new rules outlawing them.
William L. Akins, inventor of the Akins Accelerator, says people turning in bump stocks should be wary of any forms relinquishing their rights to the property, and also should ask for a property receipt signaling that while they have turned over the device, they still have an ownership stake in it.
Should the courts side with gun owners in their challenges to the new rules banning bump stocks, the device owners then have a chance to get their property back — or to at least be compensated.
“People are trying to comply with the law,” said Joshua Prince, an attorney for one of the groups challenging the ban in court. “They want to surrender these. They don’t want them destroyed, because they still believe that ATF has acted unlawfully in regulating bump stocks in the way that they have.”
The Trump administration moved to impose the ban after several high-profile shootings, including the October 2017 Las Vegas massacre where the shooter used bump stocks to fire more than 1,000 rounds down on a music festival, killing 58 people.
Current owners of the devices, which attach to semi-automatic weapons to mimic the fire rate of machine guns, have to destroy them or turn them into the government before Tuesday, when the ban goes into effect.
Mr. Akins said he showed up recently at a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) office in Alabama with 63 devices. Agents tried to present him with a form acknowledging he was surrendering his rights to the property.
“I said ‘gentlemen, I can’t sign this,’ ” Mr. Akins recalled. “If I sign this, I will never be able to seek reimbursement in court because I surrendered my property and all my rights and interests thereto.”
He tried to get the agents to sign his own form saying he was turning the devices over “under extreme duress of injustice, intimidation, and what is clearly presidential politically motivated coercion.”
The agents refused, saying they couldn’t sign something unless it was a government form, he said.
Eventually “under protest,” Mr. Akins signed a property receipt, adding a line that he wasn’t surrendering his rights and interests.
“Me, I’m very knowledgeable in this whole thing because I invented it … and I know what my rights are,” he said. “But the average individual that owns one bump-fire stock and goes in to turn it in — he isn’t going to know these things, or she.”
Mr. Prince said he’s concerned that there are individuals out waiving their rights to future reimbursement for the devices.
“We want to make sure that people know that they don’t need to do that,” the lawyer said. “They don’t need to relinquish their rights, even though the ATF may be trying to coerce them into doing that.”
The ATF said that’s not the case, and that they won’t destroy any surrendered bump stocks until all applicable litigation over the matter has been adjudicated.
“ATF uses a standard abandonment form when an individual (or entity) voluntarily surrenders any property, including bump stocks,” spokeswoman April Langwell said in an email. “If an individual turning in a bump stock declines to complete this form for any reason, ATF will still accept the device(s) and will provide a standard property receipt to document the transfer.”
Gun-rights advocates did score something of a win over the weekend when a federal appeals court in D.C. ordered that the ban scheduled to take effect on Tuesday be stayed — but only for the people involved in that case. That leaves others all over the country scrambling — and Mr. Akins said it didn’t need to be this way.
“It’s just been a nightmare. They’re just making it up as they go along, and it’s all because Trump told Sessions to do it,” he said. “Can’t seem to get the wall built, can’t seem to get other things done, but oh boy, jump on those bump-fire stocks immediately — that’s the No. 1 priority for the country. It’s just ridiculous.”
After the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, the Trump administration reversed longstanding legal readings by the Bush and Obama administrations that bump stocks couldn’t be banned under existing law. But Trump administration lawyers concluded that the stocks were the equivalent of machine guns, making them eligible to be regulated under pre-existing law.
Mr. Akins says he faced a similar reversal himself. Twice during the Bush years the ATF ruled his device was not a machine gun before reversing itself in 2006.
He said the Trump administration’s move also sets the stage for a future Democratic president to potentially go further and start proposing unilateral bans of semiautomatic firearms like the AR-15.
“They’ll say well, since every semi-automatic firearm out there can be bump-fired, now we’re going to conclude that every semi-automatic firearm out there equates to a machine gun,” he said. “And that’s what really worries me in the long run … it’s the creep of it.”
He said he wasn’t sure what Mr. Trump thought he was going to gain by moving to ban the devices.
“But he has really upset a lot of people in the firearms industry and the firearms community at large and gun owners at large when he stands up there and tells us that he’s for our Second Amendment and our Second Amendment’s safe, don’t worry about that, and then he does this,” he said.