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Trump administration orders gun owners to hand over, destroy all bump-stock-type devices

Brandon Moseley

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Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker announced that the Department of Justice has amended the regulations of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), clarifying that bump stocks fall within the definition of “machinegun” under federal law, as such devices allow a shooter of a semiautomatic firearm to initiate a continuous firing cycle with a single pull of the trigger.

“President Donald Trump is a law and order president, who has signed into law millions of dollars in funding for law enforcement officers in our schools, and under his strong leadership, the Department of Justice has prosecuted more gun criminals than ever before as we target violent criminals.” Acting Attorney General Whitaker said. “We are faithfully following President Trump’s leadership by making clear that bump stocks, which turn semiautomatics into machine guns, are illegal, and we will continue to take illegal guns off of our streets.”

On February 20, 2018, President Trump issued a memorandum instructing the Attorney General “to dedicate all available resources to… propose for notice and comment a rule banning all devices that turn legal weapons into machine guns.”
In response to that direction from President Trump, the Department reviewed more than 186,000 public comments and made the decision to make clear that the term “machinegun” as used in the National Firearms Act (NFA), as amended, and Gun Control Act (GCA), as amended, includes all bump-stock-type devices that harness recoil energy to facilitate the continued operation of a semiautomatic firearm after a single pull of the trigger.

This final rule amends the regulatory definition of “machinegun” in Title 27, Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), sections 447.11, 478.11, and 479.11. The final rule amends the regulatory text by adding the following language:

“The term ‘machine gun’ includes bump-stock devices, i.e., devices that allow a semiautomatic firearm to shoot more than one shot with a single pull of the trigger by harnessing the recoil energy of the semi-automatic firearm to which it is affixed so that the trigger resets and continues firing without additional physical manipulation of the trigger by the shooter.” Furthermore, the final rule defines “automatically” and “single function of the trigger” as those terms are used in the statutory definition of a machine gun. Specifically, “automatically” as it modifies “shoots, is designed to shoot, or can be readily restored to shoot,” means functioning as a result of a self-acting or self-regulating mechanism that allows the firing of multiple rounds through the single function of the trigger; “single function of the trigger” means single pull of the trigger and analogous motions”

Because the final rule clarifies that bump-stock-type devices are machineguns, the devices fall within the purview of the NFA and are subject to the restrictions of 18 U.S.C. 922(o). As a result, persons in possession of bump-stock-type devices must divest themselves of the devices before the effective date of the final rule. A current possessor may destroy the device or abandon it at the nearest ATF office, but no compensation will be provided for the device. Any method of destruction must render the device incapable of being readily restored to its intended function.

From the founding of the Republic, U.S. citizens generally were allowed to own military “small arms”. In World War I most soldiers were still equipped with bolt actions rifles, like the American 1903 Springfield or the German 1898 Mauser (G98). While regular soldiers were fumbling with their bolt actions trying to get into bayonet range, much of the killing was done by heavy machine guns. When inventors began to produce machine guns that were air cooled rather than water cooled, they were able to make fully automatic rifles light enough for individual soldiers to carry them into combat.

One of the best of these was the 1918 Thompson Submachine gun. Like almost every rifle that had gone before it, after the war the Thompson was marketed to civilians. Most civilian Thompsons were used by ranchers to shoot nuisance coyotes or prairie dogs; however, in the hands of Prohibition-era gangsters the Thompson became the dreaded “Tommy Gun.”  Gangsters would ride up the street in their automobiles blasting other gangsters and anybody who got in the way with their Tommy guns.

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President Franklin D. Roosevelt (D) was determined to end this street violence so proposed the first nationwide gun control measure. The National Rifle Association, at that time more of a shooting sports participants association than the pro-Second Amendment group it is today, agreed and Congress passed the Gun Control Act of 1938 with bipartisan support. That was followed by the Gun Control Act of 1968. Guns like the fully automatic Thompson, the thirty caliber MG, the fifty caliber MG, etc. were restricted to military use only. Existing machine guns in civilian use were grandfathered in and remain in the hands of federally licensed collectors and dealers.

To make matters more complicated many civilian weapons look much like their military counterparts. The defining difference is simply mechanical. Outlawed are guns that, if you pull the trigger in fully automatic mode, the gun will keep firing rounds until the shooter releases the trigger or the magazine or belt runs out of bullets. Any weapon that fires in fully automatic mode can primarily be possessed by the military or a specially licensed collector.

In 1936 frontline American troops began replacing their bolt-action Springfield rifles with the semi-automatic eight round M1 Garand. With a semi-automatic, all you have to do is to pull the trigger over and over again. In the Vietnam War the U.S. military used the M16 a military rifle with a fully automatic setting. The Gun Control Acts of 1936 and 1968 prevent most civilians from obtaining M16s. In 1989 President George H. W. Bush (R) wrote an executive order banning the import of dozens of foreign military rifles such as the Kalashnikov AK-47 and AK-74. Pres. Bill Clinton (D) signed the Assault Weapons Ban in 1994 banning many military-style weapons largely based on appearance and accessories; but that bill included a sunset provision after ten years. That ban was allowed to expire in September 2004. This launched the AR-15 (the semi-automatic version of the M-16) platform as America’s favorite rifle. The AR-15 family of rifles are both legal and commonly used for both police and civilian use.  “America’s rifle”  is being widely mass produced by a number of manufacturers.

Bump stocks are devices that increase the rate of fire of civilian rifles, like the AR-15. Critics contend that the fire rate of a semi-automatic rifle equipped with a bump stock functions more like an illegal machine gun, like the Thompson or the M16. Pres. Barack H Obama’s (D) Administration disagreed and approved the sale of bump-stocks for civilian use.

On Oct. 1, 2017, Stephen Paddock, age 64, opened fire on an open-air concert in Los Vegas from a hotel room killing 59 and wounding over 400. Hundreds more were hurt fleeing the carnage. Paddock’s sizable arsenal at the scene included fourteen AR-15s equipped with bump stocks. He also had eight AR-10s, a bolt action rifle and a revolver.

Legislation to ban bump stocks was introduced in Congress, but failed to pass. Pres. Trump responded by ordering them banned by executive order. This rule by the Justice Department and enforced by the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms is designed to accomplish President Trump’s directive.

The Gun Owners of America (GOA) have filed suit arguing that Trump’s bump stock ban is unconstitutional under the Second Amendment of the Constitution.

Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi (D-California) has promised that the new Democratic majority will prioritize sweeping gun control legislation, including a new assault weapons ban.

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Crime

Three more prison workers, another inmate test positive for COVID-19

Eddie Burkhalter

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Three more prison workers have tested positive for COVID-19, becoming the sixth prison worker to self-report positive test results in two days. 

Additionally, a man serving at the St. Clair Correctional Facility also tested positive for the virus, the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) announced in a Friday press release. 

Three workers at the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka all self-reported positive test results and are self-quarantined, according to the release. That makes 12 workers with confirmed coronavirus cases at that facility, and 61 cases among staff across the state’s prisons, although 16 have been cleared to return to work. 

The man serving at St. Clair had been treated at a local hospital earlier this month for a preexisting medical condition and tested negative for COVID-19 at the time, according to ADOC. He returned to a local hospital a short time later and tested positive for COVID-19, and remains at the hospital for treatment, according to the release.

There were four confirmed cases of COVID-19 among inmates at the St. Clair prison as of Thursday, according to ADOC, and one inmate there, the terminally-ill 66-year-old Dave Thomas, died at a local hospital less than 24 hours after testing positive for the virus. One worker at the facility had tested positive for COVID-19 but has since been cleared to return to work. 

A small living area in St. Clair prison’s infirmary, where the man was living, has been placed on level two quarantine, meaning incarcerated people there will be restricted to their living areas for meals and all other activities, according to ADOC. 

The entire infirmary has been placed on level one quarantine, so inmates inside will be monitored for symptoms and have temperatures checked twice daily. 

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There have been 12 confirmed COVID-19 cases among inmates, and three remained active as of Friday, according to ADOC. All of the inmates who’ve tested positive for the virus had preexisting medical conditions and were tested for COVID-19 at hospitals. 

Testing of inmates in general remains very low, however. Less than one percent of the state’s inmate population has been tested, or 156 of approximately 22,000. 

Prison reform advocates have expressed concern that without broader testing, the extent of the virus’s spread inside the overcrowded prisons won’t be known, and more people will become infected due to the spread from asymptomatic people. 

The state’s prisons were at 170 percent capacity in January, the last month in which ADOC has made monthly statistical reports publicly available.

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Alabama Parole and Probation Officers supervising nearly 9,000 violent criminals

Brandon Moseley

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The Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles released a report Thursday that was shared with state legislators and the media this week that shows Alabama’s 300 parole and probation officers are tasked with supervising 8,993 people convicted of violent crimes.

The officers are tasked with supervising more than 27,000 Alabama offenders as well as more than 3,600 offenders from other states who chose to move to Alabama following their incarceration in other states. Those are just the active cases.

There are an additional 22,947 inactive offenders for a total caseload of 50,055.

“The supervision of all these offenders that our officers provide daily is crucial to the safety of Alabamians and we are thankful for the selfless and dedicated work of these law enforcement officers,” said Bureau Director Charlie Graddick in a statement.

Graddick said that the Bureau put nine new officers into the field last week to begin supervising parolees and probationers and hopes to hire up to 138 more officers over the next three years — if the budget allows.

In the session that recently ended, the Legislature cut the bureau’s budget nearly in half.

“We are in need of more officers as we work to reduce caseloads,” Graddick said.

The report shows that 79 percent of the Alabama clients the bureau supervises were granted probation by judges throughout the state.

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Sixteen percent of the Alabama offenders are parolees who were granted release from prison by the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles.

Of the 6,078 Alabama parolees being supervised, 58 percent are violent offenders, some requiring much more intensive supervision.

Alabama has historically underfunded and understaffed the aging prison facilities managed by the Alabama Department of Corrections.

The Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles is tasked with attempting to safely reintegrate parolees into society as well as to rehabilitate offenders sentenced to probation so that they do not re-offend and have to join the state’s prison population again.

A recent Department of Justice report claimed that Alabama’s prisons are among the most dangerous in the country.

The state has a critical need to increase prison capacity to reduce prison overcrowding and protect the public from crime and violence.

 

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Crime

Three more prison workers test positive for COVID-19, testing of inmates remains low

Eddie Burkhalter

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Two workers at the Bullock Correctional Facility and one employee at the Kilby Correctional Facility have tested positive for COVID-19, the Alabama Department of Corrections said Thursday evening.

The latest confirmed cases among staff bring the total of COVID-19 cases among prison workers to 58. Twelve of those workers have since recovered, the Alabama Department of Corrections said in a press release Thursday. 

ADOC is investigating to determine whether inmates or staff had “direct, prolonged exposure to these staff members,” according to the release. Anyone exposed to the infected staff members will be advised to contact their health care providers and self-quarantine for two weeks, according to the release. 

The latest case at Bullock prison makes 5 workers there who’ve tested positive for coronavirus, and the worker at Kilby prison also became the fifth employee at that facility with a confirmed case of the virus.

There have been confirmed COVID-19 cases in 18 of the state’s 27 facilities, with the Ventress Correctional Facility in Barbour County with the most infected workers, with 12 confirmed cases among staff.

As of noon Thursday, there were no additional confirmed COVID-19 cases among inmates, according to ADOC. Of the 11 confirmed cases among inmates, two remain active, according to the department. 

The extent of the spread of the virus among inmates is less clear, however, due to a lack of testing. Just 155 inmates of approximately 22,000 had been tested as of Tuesday, according to the department. Test results for six inmates were still pending. 

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An ADOC spokeswoman was working to respond to APR’s questions sent Wednesday asking whether the department had plans to broaden testing among inmates to include asymptomatic people, but APR had not received responses as of Thursday evening. 

ADOC this week completed installation of infrared camera systems at major facilities that can detect if a person attempting to enter or exit the facility is running a temperature greater than 100 degrees, according to the release Thursday. 

“This added layer of screening increases accuracy of readings while reducing the frequency with which individuals must be in close proximity at points of entry/exit,” the release states.

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Crime

More confirmed COVID-19 cases among state inmates, prison staff

Eddie Burkhalter

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Two more inmates in Alabama prisons have tested positive for COVID-19, while confirmed cases among prison staff continue to outpace cases among inmates. Four additional workers have also tested positive, bringing the total to 55. 

The Alabama Department of Corrections in a press release Wednesday evening announced that two inmates who had been housed at the infirmary at the Kilby Correctional Facility have tested positive for the virus. Those men, who were being treated for preexisting medical conditions, have been taken to a local hospital for treatment of COVID-19, according to the release. 

The infirmary at Kilby prison has been placed on level-one quarantine, meaning inmates there are to be monitored for symptoms of coronavirus and have their temperatures checked twice daily, according to ADOC. 

Two more workers at the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women self-reported positive test results for COVID-19, bringing the total of confirmed cases among staff at the facility to nine. 

One employee at the Bullock Correctional Facility also tested positive for COVID-19, according to the press release, becoming the third worker at the prison with a confirmed case. An inmate at the prison had also previously tested positive for coronavirus. 

One worker at the Hamilton Aged and Infirmed facility, which cares for older and sick inmates at most risk from serious complications and death from coronavirus, has also tested positive for COVID-19. 

ADOC on May 6 announced that an inmate at Hamilton Aged and Infirmed tested positive for the virus. A worker at the facility told APR earlier this month that staff there was concerned that the virus may have entered the facility after a correctional officer was ordered to sit with an inmate from another facility at a hospital, where the man later tested positive for COVID-19 and died the following day. 

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That man, 66-year-old Dave Thomas, tested positive for COVID-19 on May 6, according to the ADOC, and died within 24 hours of receiving the test results.

Despite the inmate’s confirmed COVID-19 test results, the correctional officer was ordered to return to work at the Hamilton Aged and Infirmed facility without self-quarantining or being tested for the virus, the worker told APR

An ADOC spokeswoman told APR that all correctional officers who had contact with the deceased inmate all received tests for COVID-19 and reported negative results. The worker says that’s untrue, and that the officer hasn’t been tested. 

ADOC does not test staff for COVID-19 but requests that those who test positive self-report to the department. ADOC has said that inmates are only tested if they’re exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 and only at the recommendation of a physician. 

As of Wednesday, 11 inmates in state prisons have tested positive for COVID-19, and just two cases remain active, according to ADOC. 

As of Tuesday, 152 of approximately 22,000 state inmates had been tested for the virus, according to the department. 

It was unclear Wednesday whether ADOC plans to begin testing inmates who may not be exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19. 

Attempts to reach an ADOC spokeswoman Wednesday evening weren’t immediately successful. 

Some state prison systems have begun testing all inmates, and the results of those tests have shown the virus had spread in many facilities among inmates who showed no symptoms. 

The Michigan Department of Corrections tested all 38,130 state prisoners over a 15-day span and found that 3,263 of them tested positive, according to MLive

“The vast majority of the prisoners we found who tested positive had no symptoms and were making it more challenging to control the spread of this illness.” Heidi Washington, Michigan Department of Corrections director, said in a written statement, according to MLive.

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