Prices for bump stocks are surging as a federal ban on them is suddenly becoming more than just a talking point. This accessory enables semi-automatic weapons to fire as rapidly as fully automated ones. And even though a bump stock-modified rifle didn't figure in last week's massacre at a Florida high school, a ban on them is back in play after an earlier effort to halt their sales went nowhere.
Auctions listed on the site Gun Broker.com show bump stocks being offered for as high as $1,000, with bids at the $500 level. The devices, which many gun enthusiasts consider to be a useless novelty, retail for under $200.
Not surprisingly, two makers of the devices, Bump Fire Systems and Slide Fire Systems, reported that their websites were crashing under the weight of increased traffic on Wednesday. Neither company offered any details or a timetable for when the glitches would be fixed in notices on their Facebook pages, and they didn't respond to messages seeking comment.
Bump stocks gained notoriety last year after Stephen Paddock killed 58 and wounded nearly 500 at a country music festival in Las Vegas with weapons that were outfitted with the devices. Had Paddock not used them, the numbers of casualties would have been greatly reduced, experts have said.
Nikolas Cruz, the confessed Florida shooter, didn't use bump stocks on the AR-15 military-style weapon he allegedly used to kill 17 and wound 16 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Even so, gun control advocates support them being outlawed.
Banning bump stocks "sounds like a good initial step, but the devil is in the details, and it remains to be seen whether the Department of Justice will actually prohibit bump stocks, or if the White House is playing games," said John Feinblatt, president of the anti-gun nonprofit founded by media tycoon and former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, in a press release. "Regardless, this action alone is not enough."
According to gun dealers, a potential ban has once again stirred interest in bump stocks, which otherwise haven't been strong sellers. Many firearms enthusiasts consider them to be a novelty of limited usefulness, and they're not allowed at gun ranges because they make it difficult to shoot a weapon accurately.
"I don't know whether people want to buy them because they're forbidden fruit or because they think they might go up in value if they're banned," said Larry Hyatt, owner of Hyatt Gun Shop in Charlotte, North Carolina. The shop, which says it's the largest in the U.S., has received a few customer calls about bump stocks.
Alabama gun dealer Grant Crowden did a brisk business in bump stocks when they were first introduced a few years ago and again after the Vegas shooting -- when talk of banning them first happened. But he recently took several out of a layaway program after customers failed to claim them.
"They are actually sitting [in the shop] now," said Crowden, owner of Bama Gun & Pawn in Decatur, Alabama, adding that he doesn't plan to restock them given their low retail profit margins.
Survivors of the Florida school shooting on Wednesday for restrictions on gun sales including a ban on AR-15s and other assault-style weapons, an idea that the Republican-controlled legislature has already tabled. The National Rifle Association and its backers have repeatedly argued that assault weapons bans would have failed to prevent mass shootings.
"The AR-15 type gun is one of the most popular guns made," said Hyatt. "It has low recoil. The ammunition is inexpensive. Every body type can shoot it. … People are used to it from their military training."
AR-15s also are fairly inexpensive, with basic models available for less than $1,000, far less than fully automatic weapons, which cost between $5,000 and $30,000 and require a tough screening process. Gun owners are also able to get AR-15-level firepower with some hunting rifles and handguns.