Wall Street Journal reporter Michael Bender told a panel on CNN's Inside Politics on Friday that fully automatic firearms produced after 1985 are legal to own in the United States—but the exact opposite is true.
"If you put a ban on the floor of these that would ban a device that turns something into an automatic weapon then even the initial question is 'why not a full ban on all automatic weapons,' which is not the case," he said. "Anything made after '85 is legal right now."
The Hughes Amendment to the Firearms Owners' Protection Act of 1986 made it "unlawful for any person to transfer or possess a machinegun except in the case of a machinegun that was lawfully possessed before the date of enactment." That effectively outlawed the ownership of fully automatic firearms illegal for civilians in the United States. Beyond that, the ownership of fully automatic firearms manufactured before 1986 is highly regulated under the National Firearms Act of 1934.
Those who want to purchase a pre-1986 fully automatic firearm must pay a $200 tax stamp, submit an application to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), and the firearm must already have been registered in the National Firearm Registration and Transfer Record registry. The application process includes a background check, fingerprint, and photo submission, informing local law enforcement that the applicant has purchased a fully automatic firearm, and can take several months to over a year to complete. Those who own legally registered fully automatic firearms must also apply to the ATF for permission to cross state lines with the firearms, a process that can also take several months to complete.
However, the limited number of legally registered fully automatic firearms also makes the firearms exceedingly expensive with most selling for between five and six figures. That puts owning fully automatic firearms well out of reach for the average American.
Additionally, while bump fire and bump fire stocks provide some approximation of a fully automatic rate of fire, they do not, as Bender had claimed, convert semi-automatic firearms into fully automatic firearms. Instead, the firing technique and the stocks designed to facilitate it utilize the recoil of the gun to assist the shooter with pulling the trigger more frequently than would be possible with traditional shooting techniques. The firearms still require the trigger to be pulled each time a shot is fired unlike a fully automatic firearm where a single trigger pull will produce continuous fire until the trigger is released or the ammunition runs out.
Bender went on to say the move from banning bump fire stocks, like those used by the Las Vegas shooter, to banning fully automatic firearms represents a slippery slope to the National Rifle Association and some Republicans.
"So, it's a slippery slope here," he said. "This is what the NRA is worried about. This is exactly how the Republican party became an anti-gun control party. And we've already seen Tom Massie on Twitter saying 'Republicans control the Senate, the House, and the White House and we're talking about gun control measures?'"
Update 3:52 P.M.: Michael Bender told the Washington Free Beacon his mistake was unintentional. "Said legal when the rest of the context is clear that I mean illegal," he said. "Thanks for catching it."