By Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Tuesday the Justice Department will be ready soon to announce a decision on bump stocks, and hinted that the department's lawyers believe the device can be banned through new regulations.
In remarks to state attorneys general from around the country, Sessions said his department's lawyers see a legal path to ban bump stocks, despite prior legal opinions to the contrary by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
"We will have an announcement on that soon," he said, in remarks to the National Association of Attorneys General.
"We believe in that, and we have had to deal with previous ATF legal opinions, but our top people in the Department of Justice have believed for some time that we can through regulatory process not allow the bump stock to convert a weapon from a semiautomatic to a fully automatic."
Sessions' remarks came about a week after President Donald Trump pledged in the wake of the mass shooting at Parkland High School in Florida to ban bump stocks, a gun accessory that enables a rifle to shoot hundreds of rounds a minute.
The device came under scrutiny after a gunman in October who used a bump stock device killed 58 people and wounded hundreds of others as they attended a country music concert in Las Vegas.
Authorities said Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock’s ability to fire hundreds of rounds per minute over a 10-minute period from his 32nd-floor hotel suite was a major factor in the high casualty count.
In December, the ATF launched a review into possibly banning the device through regulations and asked the public for comment. [nL1N1O51WT]
At issue is the definition of the term “machine gun” and whether bump stocks fall under that definition.
In a 2010 legal opinion by the ATF, the bureau determined that bump stocks could not be regulated under the Gun Control Act or the National Firearms Act.
In a subsequent 2013 letter to Congress, the ATF reiterated that position, saying, "ATF does not have the authority to restrict their lawful possession, use, or transfer."
Given some of the legal questions surrounding the ATF's authority, some members of Congress have proposed legislation explicitly banning the device. To date, such legislation has not advanced.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)