Banning Bump Stocks?

Two memoranda appear on the White House website dated yesterday. One has received quite a bit of national news coverage, while the other is yet another routine delegation of authority. I’ll only comment on the somewhat controversial one.

Most media reports of the “bump stock” memorandum are overstating the result of the action. First, it is not an executive order, so is not a directive. Second, it does not ban bump stocks. It simply urges the Department of Justice to move expeditiously to finish the process begun late last year of addressing the legality of bump stocks under the legal definition of “machineguns”.

On December 26, 2017 in the Federal Register a Notice of Proposed Rule Making was published initiating the standard legal process for creating or changing a rule based on legislation. Note, it is not a proposed rule being issued for comment. It is notice of intent to create a proposed rule. (A notice of a plan to issue a proposed rule!) Talk about bureaucracy at its most cumbersome. I was well aware of the deliberative process for federal rule making that includes a public comment period on any new or modification of a rule, but did not know of this step.

At this point I’m too lazy to check into actual steps used in creating other rules to see if this is a convenient use of bureaucracy to slow down action on something this Justice Department does not really want to do in hopes it will eventually lose momentum enough to just go away, or if it is indeed part of the legal requirement for rule making. Either way, this presidential memorandum seems redundant at best and more likely just a publicity stunt, unless the Justice Department was going to just never get around to completing the proposed rule at all. I suppose given this Attorney General, one cannot rule out that possibility.

The closest the memorandum comes to any real presidential action, such as even endorsing a conclusion to make bump stocks illegal, is this statement – “…to propose for notice and comment a rule banning all devices that turn legal weapons into machineguns.” Proposing for notice is a long ways from actual banning or even a rule to effectively ban bump stocks by an expanded definition.

A careful reading of this memorandum leads to at least two possible conclusions of intent. One, the language appears to imply the president is eager to get the rule implemented to ban bump stocks. The other conclusion is, the lack of clarity in its wording that requires one to “read in implications” means this is just political cover for some later date having the rule development process conclude that bump stocks cannot be included in the legal definition of machine gun and therefore cannot be legally banned. At that point, POTUS 45 can then point to this memorandum as his “doing the best he could”.

I find even the timing of this memorandum to be suspicious. It appears to me to be a political act to make it look like the president is “doing something” about the recent school shooting in Florida that remains in the news daily. As far as I know, a bump stock was not used in the Florida shooting. One was used in the Las Vegas shooting last October, and that is when the whole idea of banning them began to be seriously considered publicly. So why this now?

If POTUS 45 was really interested in moving this process along, he would have issued this memorandum much earlier. The comment period following the December notice (referred to above) ended almost a month ago (January 25, 2018). If this action was a true priority, it would have been issued in late January. Even better, he would have submitted draft legislation to Congress to fix the law. That would make clear that change in the law is the best solution, because then it would not be left to the whim, ideology or priorities of future administrations who could make changes to the rules.

Ultimately, the practical reality is nothing in this order is actually accomplishing anything. Any future action on this particular issue is completely in the hands of the Justice Department. They will decide what the proposed rule will be. They will decide the timing of when to open the comment period for that proposed rule, and finally, they will decide on the eventual content of the final rule.

I suspect if any rule eventually is adopted, it will only be because banning bump stocks is purportedly supported by the NRA. I’m more skeptical about the most conservative members of Congress supporting this, as I think they remain opposed to anything that even remotely resembles gun control. If legislators really saw this as a priority, legislation would have passed already.

In the meantime I will wait cynically, and will be surprised if any new rule is in place before the 2018 elections.

Official Titles and Links:

Memoranda dated February 20, 2018


Catching Up

Life sometimes intervenes to delay my review of recent POTUS actions, but sometimes just plain disgust with the whole regime, including the GOP Congress and party as a whole, settles in and motivation to read, review, and comment is so diminished I just procrastinate. Example of procrastination: Today I finally got around to publishing a post I drafted a week ago, then forgot.

To catch up, here are the actions posted by the White House since February 8. I’m going to just list them for the record (in order of their appearance on that site) without comment, because I have only given them a cursory reading and they all appear to be more or less routine.

[Ed. Note: With this post, I have decided to create and use tags that are being used on the White House website. A while back, the site was redesigned and the two things I noticed immediately were: 1) tags to categorize the presidential actions, and 2) inclusion of “Nominations and Appointments” to their listings. The former might prove to be useful, the latter just clutters up the site. I would have preferred they added “Signing Statements” to this list instead, but so far they must still be found in a different place.]

Official Titles and Links:

  • Presidential Memorandum for the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense
  •  Presidential Message to the Congress of the United States
  •  Notice Regarding the Continuation of the National Emergency with Respect to Libya
  •  Presidential Message to the Congress of the United States
  •  Presidential Sequestration Order for Fiscal Year 2019

Memoranda and Proclamation dated from February 9 through 15, 2018

Delegation to Defense

This appears to be yet another routine delegation of authority. Following is the operative section of the memorandum:

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including section 301 of title 3, United States Code, I hereby delegate to the Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, and the Director of National Intelligence, the functions and authorities vested in the President by section 1238 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 (Public Law 115-91).

Official Title and Link: Presidential Memorandum on the Delegation of Certain Functions and Authorities under Section 1238 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018

Memorandum dated February 5, 2018

Actions of January 9

Three actions were signed on January 9, 2018. Two appear to be routine memoranda, the other an important executive order.

The memorandum to the Secretary of State is simply delegation of authority, but the significant part is the topic:  handling religious freedom abroad.

The executive order is, in my opinion, an important and much needed initiative, given the perpetual nature of the wars we remain involved in worldwide. It provides for automatic enrollment in V.A. programs for veterans as they begin the transition from uniformed service to civilian life. I only hope this program will be well designed and fully funded. With this congress, the funding may be less than is necessary for successful implementation and operation. NPR ran a story on January 10 that is a good summary of the program, including some of the caveats.

I find the memorandum to the Director of National Intelligence so confusing that I don’t know if I really understand the point of it. As best I can decipher, it orders development of better procedures for sharing information by national intelligence agencies with local, state, etc. authorities.

Official Titles and Links:

Memoranda and Executive Order dated January 9, 2018

Rural Broadband

Over the next few years it will be interesting to watch the development of broadband access in rural areas. Today’s actions are intended to increase access and pave the way for more rapid broadband development. Unfortunately, my view is these actions are going to be thwarted, at least somewhat, by the FCC doing away with net neutrality rules earlier.

Maybe the growing support in Congress for legislation to restore net neutrality will mitigate the challenges ahead.

Official Titles and Links:

Executive Order and Memorandum dated January 8, 2018

Space Exploration

Yesterday a memorandum was signed that revises a June 2010 policy directive regarding space exploration. The operative part is quoted below:

The paragraph beginning “Set far-reaching exploration milestones” is deleted and replaced with the following:

“Lead an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the solar system and to bring back to Earth new knowledge and opportunities. Beginning with missions beyond low-Earth orbit, the United States will lead the return of humans to the Moon for long-term exploration and utilization, followed by human missions to Mars and other destinations;”.

Official Title and Link: Presidential Memorandum on Reinvigorating America’s Human Space Exploration Program

Memorandum dated December 11, 2017