11 June 2018Feature
In response to the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in February 2018 and the Las Vegas shooting in October 2017, lawmakers in Florida enacted a raft of new laws aimed at reducing gun violence in schools.
Included among these new laws is a purported ban on “bump fire stocks”, to which many individuals and organisations in Florida have reacted negatively.
One such individual is Adam Roberts, a native of Florida. Adam has decided to personally sue the State of Florida over the bump fire stock ban.
Like many Americans, Adam describes himself as a “gun enthusiast”.
“I believe in liberty,” Adam says. “As long as I’m a law-abiding citizen, the weapons and weapon accessories I own should be none of anyone’s business.”
But Adam insists that his challenge isn’t just about guns.
“Undermining the Constitution undermines the rule of law. Lawmakers are not above the law, nor should they be. The bill of rights was put into our Constitution to give specific guarantees of personal freedoms and liberties. It was written to put limitations on the power of government, to preserve liberty and ward off oppression and tyranny.”
“Many lawmakers are former lawyers and constitutional scholars — those people were taught to respect the process of law. These people know exactly what they’re doing, and what they’re doing is truly disgusting.
“The bump fire stock ban violates the Second, Fifth and Fourteenth amendments of the US Constitution, as well as violating the Florida Constitution.”
It is well known that the Second Amendment guarantees that “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.”
Adam has also argued in his lawsuit that it violates the Fifth Amendment, which requires “just compensation” if a state or federal government seizes private property. The right to “full compensation” is also protected by the Florida Constitution.
Adam claims that the banning of previously-legal firearms accessories without compensation violates the Fifth Amendment because it is an “uncompensated seizure.”
Bump fire stocks came into the public focus after the Las Vegas shooting, during which perpetrator Stephen Paddock killed 58 people and injured 851. They increase the rate of fire of a semiautomatic rifle by using the recoil of the rifle to push the trigger into the operator’s finger, rather than requiring the operator to pull the trigger each time. This “mimics” automatic fire.
The definition of “bump fire stock” in the new law is broad, and includes “a conversion kit, a tool, an accessory, or a device used to alter the rate of fire of a firearm to mimic automatic weapon fire or which is used to increase the rate of fire to a faster rate than is possible for a person to fire such semiautomatic firearm unassisted by a kit, a tool, an accessory, or a device.”
Adam says that this is a problem.
“It’s poorly worded, lacks specificity, and is loosely defined. The language used to define what a bump fire stock is can be construed to mean many other firearm modifications, many of which aren’t even stocks.”
He says that many trigger modifications used on popular sporting and hunting rifles are caught by the definition, and that many of these modifications are permanent.
In his lawsuit, Adam argues that the ban is unconstitutional because it breaches the Vagueness Doctrine, a rule established by the United States Supreme Court that requires criminal offences to be sufficiently clear, so that people know what conduct is prohibited and what penalties apply.
He says that the lack of definition of terms such as “mimic automatic weapon fire” creates ambiguity, and “does not define what is enforceable, while inviting a multitude of interpretations.”
Adam also argues that it violates the Equal Protection clause because different people can pull triggers at “vastly different rates”. He says that people will be treated differently based on how quickly they can pull a trigger unassisted.
Even in its more conventional meaning, Adam is convinced that “the bump fire stock saved lives due to its inherent inaccuracy” in Las Vegas, which as far as he is aware is “the only crime ever committed with a bump fire stock”.
He explains that the perpetrator of the Las Vegas shooting, 64-year-old Stephen Paddock, was “less effective” using a bump fire stock than if he’d used “carefully-aimed fire.”
“During fully automatic fire, the recoil of the weapon pushes you off-centre of where you’re trying to aim. It’s dancing around the point where you want to aim, and the muzzle wants to climb. It’s such a waste of ammunition that the later M16s and M4s lacked fully-automatic capability.
“The bump fire stock uses even more mass. The whole rifle is reciprocating against your shoulder. That’s even more inaccurate. It takes a bit of technique to shoot reliably. So you have something that, even when it does work, is shooting wildly inaccurately.
“It did wreak terror though. People started to panic and run out of the way. I think the bump fire stock saved lives as a result.”
When asked whether mass shootings were a problem in the United States, Adam was sceptical. “We have to remember that mass shootings are some of the rarest crimes to occur.”
Although this seems at odds with current public perception and the mainstream media narrative, Adam says that mass shootings are “so rare that every single one of them is televised for days, if not weeks, after they occur.”
“Imagine if every fatal vehicle accident nationwide was televised for the same amount of time. Obviously the news would be filled with nothing but vehicle accidents and people getting killed nationwide. Most news outlets only report local fatalities.”
“But when a plane crashes, it’s national, or even international, news. Things like this feed our irrational fears. Other things that are far more likely to take your life — like driving, drowning or suffocating — are pushed aside for something exceedingly rare, like dying in a plane crash or a mass shooting.”
Even if there is a problem, Adam doesn’t think the solution lies in looking to how other jurisdictions handle weapons regulation.
“Just like this country, regulation in other countries is piecemeal, ad-hoc and arbitrary. It’s all really a hodgepodge mishmash of bad ideas that stems from those who want to regulate firearms the most — those who understand them the least.”
Premier of Western Australia Mark McGowan boasted that his state has some of the strictest firearms laws in the world. He said this shortly after the Margaret River shooting occurred in Western Australia, in which it is believed Peter Miles, who allegedly suffered from depression, shot and killed his wife, daughter and four grandchildren, before turning the gun on himself.
All weapons were appropriately registered and licensed, and Mr McGowan conceded that not much else could have been done to prevent the deaths.
Adam says that this reflects the “opportunity cost of whatever is convenient.”
“If somehow all guns disappeared, no doubt victims would be stabbed, bludgeoned, or run over with a vehicle. We have to remember a man in Nice single-handedly killed more people with a truck than any mass shooter did here in the US.
“Tim McVeigh killed many more in Oklahoma City with a giant bomb. The 9/11 hijackers were armed with box cutters.
“Unfortunately, evil finds a way.
“It’s absolutely foolish that the people who are the most law-abiding are required by law, under threat of lengthy prison sentences, to leave their defensive tools behind where they cannot be used for good, while the wicked and evil have free reign.”
When you look at the recent Santa Fe High School shooting in Texas, Adam says that this reinforces his argument. “Not only were both weapons legally-owned, they also didn’t fit the bill of big, bad, scary ‘assault weapons’. He used a Remington 870 pump-action shotgun and a .38 calibre revolver.”
“It indicates the opportunity cost of the tools available. The much-demonised AR-15 rifle isn’t the culprit behind someone hell-bent on mass murder. It’s the mind of the murderer themselves, and there are bigger factors than the eventual death toll compared to the weapon used.”
Asked about Texan Lieutenant-Governor Dan Patrick placing blame for Santa Fe on a “culture of violence” and specifically naming video games and abortions as driving factors, Adam tersely dismisses the Lieutenant-Governor’s comments.
“Violent video games have nothing to do with whether or not a person has violent tendencies. They’re not related. The National Rifle Association also spouts that nonsense. They’re both out to lunch on that.”
Perhaps surprisingly, Adam has a dim view of the National Rifle Association (NRA), which he thinks has “lost touch” in its “quest for more money and more power and prestige.”
Referring to comments of Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the NRA, that condemned bump fire stocks, Adam says that LaPierre “got the ire of key NRA supporters who told him where to go on that one. The NRA tried to save face, but it’s been damage control the whole way.”
“The NRA needs a change of leadership. They need to kick out the old and put in new people, people who don’t throw some gun owners under the bus.”
Adam’s challenge to the bump fire stock ban is progressing through the US Federal District Court for the Middle District of Florida, and other challenges have been launched in Florida by organisations including the NRA.
Although the case is progressing slowly, Adam says he is “in it for the long haul.”
“As a believer in liberty and a responsible gun owner, I couldn’t stand by and do nothing. I might win, but if I lose, at least I wasn’t complacent about my rights and the rights of all Americans,” he says.