Smitty’s Trading Post in Machias. Stephen Smith, the owner, believes bump stocks shouldn’t be banned but said the potential rule wouldn’t hurt his business. PHOTO BY JACK DODSON

Bump stocks are in demand; dealers say ban wouldn’t hurt

ELLSWORTH — Eight gun shops pepper eastern Maine roads on an 85-mile stretch between Holden and East Machias.

Of those, nearly all said they had not recently sold a device that facilitates automatic fire on semi-automatic weapons, called a bump stock. But multiple shops said they’d been fielding requests for them after members of Congress proposed legislation banning the devices.

A gunman used bump stocks to fire hundreds of bullets in about 10 minutes into a crowd gathered for a country music festival in Las Vegas on Oct. 1. Fifty-eight people were killed in the attack, and nearly 500 were wounded.

Reports from Las Vegas said that police found 12 bump stocks in the gunman’s hotel room.

A bump stock in stock at Willey’s Sport Center in Ellsworth. The product imitates automatic fire on semi-automatic weapons, and may be outlawed after a mass shooting in Las Vegas.

The National Rifle Association, which has consistently resisted gun control regulations, has also came out in support of a restriction on bump stocks.

Its support, however, is on the condition that a rule be applied through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms instead of new legislation.

For gun sellers in Hancock and Washington counties, the ban would apparently have very little effect. Of the eight shops polled by The Ellsworth American, all said their business would not be hurt by a rule banning bump stocks. Most don’t even carry them.

Willey’s Sport Center in Ellsworth is the only one of the eight stores that currently carries or has recently sold a bump stock. Others said they have sold them in the past but not recently.

Willey’s Manager Jason York said the last time he sold a bump stock was about a year ago.

“Before they threatened to take them away, I didn’t get two calls a year for them,” York said. “People don’t like having their Second Amendment rights taken away … the proposed ban is nothing but a feel-good piece of legislation.”

But York said he didn’t expect the potential ban to change anything for his store’s business.

Up in Machias, Stephen Smith of Smitty’s Trading Post said that well before the Las Vegas shooting he was recommending to customers that they just buy the item online. He said it would cut out the middle man and he didn’t get enough requests to stock them.

He estimated that he’s directed about 100 people to buy bump stocks online.

Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R-Maine), who represents the state’s Second Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives, has joined two other Maine lawmakers in supporting a potential ban.

In a written statement, Poliquin’s press secretary, Brendan Conley, said the congressman would need to review any potential bills but is open to regulation.

“Congressman Poliquin believes it’s important to make sure that the ‘bump stock’ modification, which changes a legal firearm to operate similarly to an illegal one, is more closely regulated, either through changes in regulation by the federal government or by new legislation,” Conley wrote.

For Brian Stan, who runs Poseidon Firearms in Trenton, the debate comes at a complicated time. He’s closing down his store, because he can’t compete with internet retailers. He said he expects his customers from this area to get bump stocks before they’re banned.

“They’re going to sell like hotcakes,” he said.

As for why people would want the device, a bump stock essentially comes down to a fun toy, he said, and it has no hunting purpose. In fact, he said customers often used them once before deciding they were too expensive due to all the ammo they used up.

“It’s just fun to rattle off,” he said. “It’s expensive because you’re shooting a whole lot of ammo fast.”

Reports from around the country show that sales of bump stocks are surging after the shooting, but some online dealers have taken the device off their websites. Two major online gun retailers, Cabela’s and Walmart, both pulled bump stocks from their sites recently, according to news reports.

An assistant manager at Walmart in Ellsworth said his store hadn’t carried bump stocks since he started working there, and he wasn’t aware of customers looking for them. Similarly, Jolette Rossi-West, who manages Noel Marine Supplies and Firearms in Milbridge, said her store had never sold bump stocks, or even assault weapons.

A manager from Maine Military Supply in Holden said they have received requests for the device but hadn’t sold any in about a year. Melissa Parsons of Freedom Firearms in East Machias said her store has sold a few in the past, but not many.

When it comes down to the debate’s main issue — whether a ban on bump stocks would help ensure the safety of civilians — multiple store owners in the area expressed doubt that legislation would be effective.

“I don’t feel law-abiding citizens should be punished for what happened in Vegas,” Smith said.

He also said the bump fire isn’t necessary to legally pump out large numbers of bullets quickly.

“I’m pretty happy with my AR-15 with a hundred-round drum. If I keep pumping the trigger, I could kill a lot of ISIS people,” he said, referring to the militant group.

Jack Dodson
Jack Dodson began working for The Ellsworth American in mid-2017, and covers eastern Hancock and western Washington counties. He grew up in the Mid-coast region before living in New York City for five years, where he freelanced in documentary filmmaking and journalism. He is particularly interested in criminal justice, environment and immigration reporting.