Bump stocks, the rifle attachment that allows shooters to fire bullets more quickly, have been banned in Florida since October, but there is no way to know how many of them still exist across the state.
Following the deaths of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland a year ago, the prohibition was held up as a rare example of legislative bipartisan compromise on gun control. No owners were grandfathered in, and on the day the law went into effect, possessing a bump stock in Florida became a third-degree felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison or a $5,000 fine.
Several months later, however, apparent problems with its implementation provide a lesson for how a similar federal ban beginning next month could falter.
Local police and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said they do not have dedicated programs to get rid of bump stocks. Officials with the sheriff’s offices in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties, as well as Tampa and St. Petersburg police, could only remember residents turning in a handful of the attachments since last fall but did not keep close track.
A Florida Department of Law Enforcement spokeswoman said the agency is not mandated by statute to collect and destroy bump stocks.
That leaves the responsibility on gun owners, who may have paid a few hundred dollars for their bump stocks before the ban, and who do not receive any compensation for turning in the accessory.
“Floridians are responsible for complying with the laws of our state,” said Senate President Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican who championed the bill that included the bump stock ban after the Parkland shooting. “The law makes it clear that possession of a bump stock is illegal in Florida and that a person who violates this law commits a felony.”
He suggested in a statement that anyone with information about illegal possession of a bump stock should contact local law enforcement.
Some gun owners, though, might not heed the advice, said Eric Friday, a lawyer for the advocacy group Florida Carry.
“(They) are just not going to comply with this crap,” Friday said, adding that people will simply hope to not get caught. Residents might shoot using bump stocks in private, he said, meaning authorities will only discover them in the course of another investigation.
Friday said though he does not own a bump stock, he knows other people bought them “for fun.” Private citizens are generally not allowed to have fully automatic weapons, but bump stocks offered a workaround by continuously pushing the trigger of a gun back against a shooter’s finger after firing. The devices rose to national attention when they were found on guns carried by a man who killed 58 people at a Las Vegas music festival in 2017.
No one knows for sure how many people own bump stocks in Florida, but lawyers challenging the ban in Leon County wrote in an initial filing that tens of thousands of residents could be affected. The lawyers are fighting the statute on behalf of several gun owners who already destroyed bump stocks, saying it’s unconstitutional for the state to take property without providing fair compensation.
Friday said Florida Carry is involved with similar litigation in Pennsylvania that challenges the national ban.
Federal officials estimate Americans might own between 280,000 and 520,000 bump stocks. President Donald Trump vowed in a tweet last spring that his administration would “BAN all devices that turn legal weapons into illegal machine guns.”
Bump stocks are expected to be prohibited everywhere March 26.
The U.S. Department of Justice has advised people who own the attachments to destroy them at home or abandon them at a local office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
A spokeswoman for the bureau in Tampa referred questions about bump stocks to the Department of Justice’s national press office, which did not return a request for comment.
It’s unclear how many people have turned in bump stocks to local Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives offices around Florida.
The bureau offers instructions to gun owners on its website for how to cut different models of bump stocks to render them unusable.
It also explains that people can melt, shred or crush the devices.
Contact Zachary T. Sampson at [email protected] or (727) 893-8804. Follow @ZackSampson.