Update: This story has been updated to reflect that the U.S. Supreme Court recently denied a gun rights group request to keep their bump stocks, meaning Clark Aposhian is likely the only person in the country who now legally owns one of the shooting accessories.
Clark Aposhian is the only man in American who can now legally own a bump stock. If you had one, it would be a felony. If he lent you his, it would be a felony.
This controversial shooting accessory is now banned, a move made by the Trump administration that went into effect a few weeks ago.
Despite his unique status, the Utah gun lobbyist isn’t exactly in love with the attachment, which makes a semi-automatic weapon fire in quick bursts like a machine gun. He found his on a clearance rack years ago, and bought it on a whim.
“Of all the shooting accessories I own,” he said, “this is probably one of the lamest.”
He’s maybe used it once or twice outside of showing it to reporterswho want to know more about the plastic accessory that came under intense scrutiny after a gunman used it in an October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, the deadliest in modern U.S. history.
And this week it’s no different. At a shooting range, he explains how it is supposed to work, and before pulling the trigger, warns it’s difficult to control.
He takes aim and fires: Pop-pop-pop-pop. Pause. Pop-pop-pop-pop.
Aposhian turns and smiles, and announces the bump stock actually worked right. That happens about one out of every four tries.
This demonstration is only legal because Aposhian filed a lawsuitafter Trump’s Justice Department reclassified the shooting accessory as a machine gun.
But Aposhian said his lawsuit is not simply an attempt to keep bump stocks available in the clearance aisle. It’s about who is writing the laws — and whether the government banned it in a way that’s constitutional.
“Some people are given to actively fight and some people are given to explain their passions on a keyboard on social media,” he said. “I chose to fight.”
‘Changing the metric’
When Aposhian fires his AKM-47 with the bump stock attachment, the rapid staccato sounds unlike anything else being fired at the range that day.
One booth over, there’s a pop-pause-pop-pause shooting rhythm.
But his gun fires four quick bursts, pops that ring out as metal shell casings clink on the cement floor.
The bump stock is a moveable plastic piece that rests against Aposhian’s shoulder and attaches to the back of the gun.
By holding the pistol grip with one hand and pushing forward on the barrel with the other, Aposhian’s finger hits the trigger. Then the recoil causes the gun to buck back and forth, repeatedly “bumping” the trigger against his finger. There’s no springs, levers or buttons on the plastic attachment.
The federal government approved it for sales in 2010 after the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) determined it was not the same as a machine gun and couldn’t be regulated as if it was.
But that all changed after a gunman outfitted several of his firearms with bump stocks and sprayed bullets into a crowd at a country music concert in Las Vegas — leaving 58 dead and almost 100 injured.
In response, the president said he thought the devices should be banned, and many in Congress, including members from Utah, agreed. And a Salt Lake Tribune-Hinckley Institute poll at the time showed that 69 percent of Utah’s registered voters were on board with the ban. But Congress didn’t act.
In December, the ATF did, reclassifying bump stocks as machine guns. Anyone in possession of one after March 26 was committing a felony.
Aposhian filed a lawsuit in federal court, arguing the ban was unconstitutional because it amounts to the executive branch rewriting laws, a job reserved for Congress.
“The Trump administration is changing the metric for how things are done,” he said. “We have relied on checks and balances and different duties of the executive, the legislative and the judiciary branches since the founding of this country. You don’t bypass these things to get your way. The problem is, we have what I would consider a friendly executive now. But that may change.”
It’s a slippery slope, Aposhian says. If this bump stock ban stays in place, he worries any future president could ban anything they disagree with.
‘It’s been tied to a tragedy’
Aposhian’s lawsuit is backed by the New Civil Liberties Alliance, a nonprofit organization that says it seeks to challenge “the administrative state.”
His attorney, Caleb Kruckenberg, said in a video recently released by the organization that the lawsuit isn’t about whether bump stocks should or shouldn’t be regulated — it’s about how the ATF took action.
“This case is a perfect example, unfortunately, of what we call the administrative state,” he said. “And what I mean by that is, this is a situation where we have an administrative agency, rather than Congress, trying to rewrite the law.”
The U.S. attorney’s office in Utah argued as part of Aposhian’s lawsuit that the Department of Justice acted reasonably in how it went about banning the shooting accessory, saying it only clarified that a bump stock was, indeed, a machine gun. This is consistent, they argued, with Congress’ actions in limiting private possession of machine guns.
“In short,” Eric Souskin, an attorney with the U.S. attorney’s office wrote, “because a bump stock enables most shooters to fire much faster by providing a mechanism that self-regulates the bump-fire process, a semi-automatic affixed with a bump stock is a machine gun.”
Aposhian also asked in his lawsuit that he be able to keep his bump stock until the suit is resolved. Being forced to give it up, his attorney argued in court papers, would cause him irreparable harm if the ban is overturned and the only bump stock he owned had already been destroyed.
The request was denied by a federal judge earlier in March, but the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals granted him a temporary stay just days before bump stocks were outlawed.
But the exception only applied to him.
The ATF has encouraged every other gun owner to crush, melt or shred their bump stocks, and also provided a guide that detailed what cuts needed to be made on individual bump stock models to comply with the law.
Another gun rights group in Washington, D.C. filed a similar suit, but their request to keep their bump stocks was denied Friday. This leaves Aposhian as the only person who can legally own the shooting accessory, according to the New Civil Liberties Alliance.
Aposhian is careful about how he uses it, making sure he doesn’t violate the court’s order. While on the shooting range, he messaged his attorney asking whether a reporter could try it out — the answer was no.
But he still brags a little bit. After shooting it, he mentioned to the front desk with a laugh that this was probably the only shooting range in America where someone legally shot with a bump stock that day.
Aposhian, however, is in the vocal minority when it comes to whether bump stocks should stay. A Republican president pushed for the ban, and none of Utah’s gun-friendly Republican lawmakers came out in defense of the shooting accessory.
“It’s awkward,” Aposhian acknowledges. “It’s because it’s been tied to a tragedy. People are equating a bump stock with the tragedy, when they should be equating the tragedy with a person with mental deficiency.”
So, what if Congress had passed a law banning bump stocks? Would Aposhian give up the now-rare gun attachment?
He says he would. He’d follow the law, if the process was right.
“I’m not going to stand and die on my bump stock,” he said. “Or spend 10 years in prison for this stupid thing.”
Written by Jessica Miller
Originally published on The Salt Lake Tribune