Eulogy for the bumpstock

Who remembers Vegas?  You know, the deadliest attack on American soil since 9/11, where that guy Stephen Paddock, of no particular background, with no particular history or photos, for no particular reason, shot 420 people and then managed to off himself?  Additionally, for no particular reason, having in the room no less than twenty four guns, about $50K worth (you can’t accuse him of bad taste), of which a third had no sighting system whatsoever, making them useless for beyond roughly arm’s length?  Fifty pounds of unassembled and thus useless tannerite (just yandex it) in his trunk for good measure?

Kinda odd, that whole thing.

Do you know what $50K gets you?  A couple of completely legal machine guns (once you pass the background check, which takes a few months but isn’t hard if you barely have any record of existing, let alone committing crimes), plus change.  Some of those are conversions from back when those were legal, performed at any machine shop that could mill a semiauto model to spec.  You could also invest in a RDIAS , which is a sub-oz piece of metal of extremely simple specification that avoids even the milling.  You could buy a lighting link, if one ever comes up for sale, which is rare because back in the day the manufacturer literally hacked most of them together from sheet metal when they realized machine guns were only legal to make for a few more months, and only stamped 900 or so before they ran out of steam.

For $50K (plus five million or so in other assets), you could probably just start up a legitimate manufacturing operation and make whatever you needed, or pay an engineer as a legitimate employee to do so (one might think that only one rifle is required for the task at hand, but empirically it’s 24,000% more than that).  I wonder if there is a cheap industrial park in the greater Vegas area.  Once you have your FFL, you could legally blow 1/1000 of your capital on prototyping novel designs, like hooking up a $10 Goodwill-rescue electric drill to a $40 paddle wheel to pull the trigger really fast.  Not super practical on the move, but then it’s not like you’re moving out twenty four full size rifles either.

But anyway, Paddock didn’t decide to go any of those routes.  Instead, every single one of the AR-15s, even the ones without any way to aim them, came with a bump stock, possibly the second most impractical simulacrum of full auto available, wherein the entire gun is reciprocating back and forth with one’s trigger finger stationary, thus causing the trigger to be pulled rapidly (the first worst is called, I kid you not, the “Hell-Fire”, is a glorified paperclip, and can essentially only be used at waist level and without aiming).  The primary, almost exclusive purpose is to look dope when you’re shooting into a pond at your cousin’s place.  You’ve got an 8-lb rifle jerking back and forth a couple inches, perhaps ten times a second, as you maintain ideally constant pressure forward with your weak hand.  Using this to shoot over a thousand rounds, thirty or so full magazines, over the course of ten minutes, sounds like being beaten to death by a shakeweight afficionado, if she was armed with a pneumatic hammer.  Evidently, according to the overwhelmingly trustworthy consensus, Paddock decided to do just that (pausing beforehand to calculate ballistic trajectories so he could adjust the scopes he wasn’t using on platforms that couldn’t realistically be used with them), but it does not sound like it would end up being a common aspect even for the “inexplicably deranged gunman” crowd.

Unfortunately for the manufacturers, though, “looking dope” is the flip side of “frightening to boomers”.  BAD IDEA. BUMP STOCKS. BAN.  The NRA rolled over immediately, as is their wont.  Mostly they try to play with the margins of actual legislation and not get into pitched battles (they supported the ’94 Assault Weapons Ban once a sunset provision was added); spending whatever political capital they have on a novelty accessory is, from their perspective, something they’re not interested in.

Nevertheless, no one voted for this, and literally no one will vote for this.  Not one single person will say “well, I was put off by his tone in 2016, but he sure solved that bump stock problem”.  It’s not even clear the ban will stick, since the ATF previously claimed they had no legal basis to regulate them, and there are obvious takings clause issues.  Much like Bubba stapling a drinkin’ duck to his trigger, conceptually the design is simple enough that anyone who desperately wanted one and was willing to break the law anyway could make one in the wood shop in an afternoon, so it’s not clear that if upheld it would do much to prevent a future Stephen Paddock.

In fact it seems pretty clear the bump stock ban will cost Trump votes and support.  The hardcore gun-nut demographic isn’t some redneck out in the hollers; it’s a retired dentist or a successful landlord.  Even though right now guns are historically cheap (never a bad time for your first one), they’re still a few hundred bucks apiece.  The guy who shoots precision rifle and has a couple of ARs with ACOGs and got into collecting AKs from every country in the Warsaw Pact, and so on, has a gun habit that costs as much as a car habit.  I bring up socioeconomic status because this demographic is also the backbone of any fundraising and organizing campaign. They turned out heavily for Trump in 2016.  The baseline gun owner who conceives of firearms as cultural signifiers, even if they don’t construct it as one of their primary policy issues, and who has a preexisting distrust of politicians, is not likely to be enthused by the betrayal.

As good of a natural politician as Trump is, and as bad as the alternatives are, there really is only so far people are willing to go for you if you don’t throw them patronage, real or symbolic, that they can sink their teeth into.  No wall; no Hearing Protection Act; a couple of Supreme Court justices (but can you name a Supreme Court decision over the past two years that constitutes red meat?); tax cuts; a “good economy”, for now; no new wars, but no ended ones.  Lots of reversals of Obama shenanigans.  Is this anything Ted Cruz wouldn’t have done?  Schadenfreude is the main deliverable, which is to say, symbolic pissing on enemy idols.  The fabled wall itself is just a physical manifestation of a symbol – us / them.

When you build your presidency on symbolism, and then betray a slice of your base over something that “doesn’t matter”, it doesn’t indicate you’re making a rational decision about appeasing one group versus another. It indicates you don’t actually understand them that well.  Trump does not have a lot of such groups he can afford to misunderstand.

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