Conservative media are blaming Obama for approving bump stocks. There’s more to the story.

Bump stock manufacturer appears to have misled ATF about the device’s intended purpose.

In this photo taken March 15, 2017, AR-15 style rifles made by Battle Rifle Co., a gunmaker in Webster, Texas, are on display in its retail shop. CREDIT: AP Photo/Lisa Marie Pane
In this photo taken March 15, 2017, AR-15 style rifles made by Battle Rifle Co., a gunmaker in Webster, Texas, are on display in its retail shop. CREDIT: AP Photo/Lisa Marie Pane

In the aftermath of a shooting targeting concertgoers at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas over the weekend, the NRA and conservative media have been pointing the finger at the Obama administration and the Obama-era Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms for approving a device that allowed Sunday’s attack to be as deadly as it was. But the company that manufactures the device appears to have previously lied about what it does to get that approval.

The Las Vegas gunman, 64-year-old Stephen Paddock, was able to kill and injure as many people as he did because of a gun modification called a bump stock, a device that can be put on semi-automatic weapons to increase their rate of fire.

A typical semi-automatic weapon can fire between 45 and 60 rounds per minute, while a fully automatic weapon can fire between 600 and 800 rounds in the same amount of time. While fully automatic weapons have been illegal in the U.S. since 1986, the bump stocks can essentially modify a semi-automatic weapon to meet the firing rate of a fully automatic.

Officials say a dozen of the guns found in Paddock’s hotel room had been modified with bump stocks.

Following the attack, Slide Fire, a company that manufactures Bump Stocks, posted on its website the approval letter it received from ATF in 2010 allowing it to sell the devices. Since the letter was posted, several conservative outlets — and eventually the NRA — have pushed the fact that the device was approved during the Obama years.


And they’re all correct — but Slide Fire appears to have misled the agency about the intended purpose of producing bump stocks.

In the approval letter, ATF writes, “Your letter advises that the stock…is intended to assist persons whose hands have limited mobility to ‘bump-fire’ an AR-15 rifle.”

Screenshot from ATF approval letter
Screenshot from ATF approval letter

David Chipman, a former ATF agent, spoke with ThinkProgress Wednesday about the approval of the bump stocks, which he said the ATF approved because they’re “a piece of shit,” but also noted that the inference in Slide Fire’s application was that the device would be used to help disabled veterans.

“[This] has nothing to do with wounded vets,” Chipman said. “It’s a total scam.”

But conservative outlets — and now the NRA — have run with the talking point anyway.

On Wednesday morning, conservative outlet CNS ran a story that read, “About a year and a half into the Barack Obama administration… the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives issued an opinion letter, giving the go-ahead to an after-market accessory that allows the user to ‘bump fire’ a semi-automatic rifle.”

The NRA’s spokeswoman, Dana Loesch, shared the story on Twitter.

Breitbart ran a nearly identical story Wednesday, writing, “While bump stocks are taking criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike, it is interesting to note that the devices were approved for sale in 2010 by Barack Obama’s ATF.”


Fox News mentioned that bump stocks had been approved during the Obama years Wednesday night, and then, on Thursday afternoon, the NRA leaned on the argument in a statement calling for an ATF review of the devices.

“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,” the statement said.

Notably, in the same statement, the NRA called for no legislation of the devices, only an ATF review, and requested Congress pass legislation that would make it easier for gun owners to carry across state lines.