Former President Donald Trump defended his decision to unilaterally ban bump stocks, which he called “very unimportant,” during a CNN town hall on Wednesday night.
The Republican presidential primary frontrunner didn’t turn back on his support for the ban, which has since been found unconstitutional by two federal appeals courts. He said he consulted with the National Rifle Association (NRA) before issuing an order to the ATF to find a way to outlaw the devices. He said the group was supportive of his effort.
“As you know, the bump stocks are actually a very unimportant thing,” Trump said. “NRA I went with them, and they said, ‘it doesn’t mean anything, or actually all they do is teach you how to shoot very inaccurately.’ So, we did that.”
Trump’s doubling down on support for the ban leaves open a potential point of weakness from the right on the issue going into the primary campaign. Trump’s comments also signal his continued ties with the NRA, whose political and legal fortunes have been closely entwined with Trump’s since 2016.
The NRA did not respond to a request for comment on Trump’s assertion that they helped craft his bump stock ban.
In the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, where the attacker used rifles equipped with bump stocks, the NRA initially opposed legislation to ban the devices over concerns the proposals were too expansive. It supported having Trump reclassify the stocks, which help a shooter pull the trigger of a semi-automatic gun in quicker succession, as machineguns under federal law.
“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 Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) to immediately review whether these devices comply with federal law,” NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre and then-head lobbyist Chris Cox said in a statement at the time. “The NRA believes that devices designed to allow semi-automatic rifles to function like fully-automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations.”
However, the gun-rights group changed its tune once the final rule was released a year later. It said the rule’s requirement that all bump stocks previously purchased legally be destroyed or turned in was a step too far.
“We are disappointed that this final rule fails to address the thousands of law-abiding Americans who relied on prior ATF determinations when lawfully acquiring these devices,” Jennifer Baker, an NRA spokesperson, told the Washington Free Beacon. “As we recommended to ATF in our comments on the proposed rule, Congress made it possible for the attorney general to provide amnesty for firearms regulated under the National Firearms Act. The attorney general should have exercised that authority to provide a period of amnesty under this rule.”
The Trump Administration implemented the rule without the changes requested by the NRA.
Since then, two federal appeals courts that include several Trump-appointed judges have found the rule unconstitutional. In April, a panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals found the rule was too vague to be enforced because the ATF had previously held the devices were legal before Trump’s intervention. In January, the Fifth Circuit went further and found the rule goes beyond the ATF’s power because bump stocks simply didn’t fit the definition of machinegun.
“A plain reading of the statutory language, paired with close consideration of the mechanics of a semi-automatic firearm, reveals that a bump stock is excluded from the technical definition of ‘machinegun’ set forth in the Gun Control Act and National Firearms Act,” Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod wrote for the majority in Cargill v. Garland.
The rulings cast doubt on President Joe Biden’s executive orders banning “ghost guns” and pistol braces as well because they were largely based on the same logic used by Trump in his bump stock ban.
Still, former President Trump defended his record on guns.
“There’s been nobody that’s protected the Second Amendment,” he said. “There’s, you know, like I have I protected through thick and thin, not easy to do.”
Despite defending his unilateral ban on bump stocks, he said the real problem lies with mental health.
“It’s not the gun that pulls the trigger,” Trump said. “It’s the person that pulls the trigger. And we have to protect our Second Amendment.”
He argued that schools should arm teachers and harden their buildings to stop school shootings. He said other areas could be hardened too. And he argued people need guns to defend themselves.