Could Columbia become the first US city to ban ‘bump stocks’ on guns?

Shooting instructor Frankie McRae demonstrates the grip on an AR-15 rifle fitted with a bump stock at his 37 PSR Gun Club in Bunnlevel, N.C.
Shooting instructor Frankie McRae demonstrates the grip on an AR-15 rifle fitted with a bump stock at his 37 PSR Gun Club in Bunnlevel, N.C. AP

Columbia and South Carolina leaders are considering new laws to ban devices that turn guns into battlefield-style automatic weapons, a month after a gunman killed 58 people and injured 500 at a Las Vegas country music festival.

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin plans to propose that Columbia becomes what he believes will be the first city in the United States to ban the use of bump stocks and trigger cranks, attachments that turn legal guns into weapons that simulate illegal, fully automatic firearms.

In the Las Vegas hotel room from where gunman Stephen Paddock fired on a concert crowd last month, a dozen guns modified with bump stocks were found among an arsenal of nearly 50 weapons.

Columbia’s proposed ordinance would make it illegal to attach bump stocks or trigger cranks to any guns within the city, except by military or law enforcement personnel. It would still be legal to own those devices, so long as they are stored in separate containers from firearms.

“The City Council in Columbia has strong supporters of the Second Amendment, and it’s just about time for the ‘good guys with guns’ to act,” Benjamin said. “We’re tired of this paralysis in Washington to do anything reasonable to help stop this carnage on our streets and decided it was time for us to step up.”

Benjamin will formally announce the proposal Thursday at 3 p.m. at City Hall.

Meanwhile, some state lawmakers are proposing a statewide ban not only on the use of but the possession of bump stock or trigger crank devices in South Carolina.

“We saw with great sadness and, to be honest, terror what these weapons can do when they are altered in this fashion and get in the wrong hands,” said state Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston, who is co-sponsoring a House bill pre-filed last week.

State lawmakers will consider the proposal when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

“Automatic weapons are illegal in this country for good reason. We don’t need people with machine guns running around,” Stavrinakis said. “And this device allows someone to take a semi-automatic weapon, which would otherwise be legal, and convert it to an otherwise illegal weapon.”

A state law regulating the devices would supersede any local laws addressing them.

Stavrinakis said he would rather see the U.S. Congress pass uniform federal legislation applying to all states. But it doesn’t look like that’s happening anytime soon.

In the immediate aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting, some national leaders and even the National Rifle Association expressed support for a federal ban or stricter regulations on bump stocks. A month later, though, those calls appear to have gone almost silent.

Some federal lawmakers now say it should be up to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to regulate bump stocks. The ATF, though, says it can’t regulate the devices because they are not guns; it’s up to Congress to pass a law, the agency says.

In the absence of federal action, several states have taken up the bump stock conversation. But only Massachusetts has passed new state regulations on bump stocks since the Las Vegas massacre.

A handful of states already have laws addressing the devices in some fashion, but there is ambiguity among them.

Benjamin believes Columbia could be the first city in America to institute a local-level ban on bump stocks.

Leaders in Tuscon, Ariz., recently considered a local ban, which fell through because of a state law that forbids cities from writing their own gun laws. Instead, Tuscon city leaders passed a non-binding resolution encouraging state and federal lawmakers to do something.

Benjamin said Columbia’s proposed law is “constitutionally and statutorily sound,” as it would not regulate firearms, only the attachment of these modifying devices to them.