In a notice submitted for approval to the Office of Management and Budget, the DoJ proposed that bump stocks be included in the definition of "machine gun" in the 1934 National Firearms Act. If the Office of Management and Budget okays the proposed regulation, it would then be published, with members of the public allowed to comment, before a final version was put into place.
The law defines a machine gun as a weapon that fires more than one shot with "a single function of the trigger".
The Justice Department's regulation would classify the hardware as a machine gun banned under federal law.
The regulation is likely to face a legal challenge from the National Rifle Association, which has already filed a lawsuit against a similar bump bump-stock ban enacted in Florida on Friday.
"President Trump is absolutely committed to ensuring the safety and security of every American and he has directed us to propose a regulation addressing bump stocks", Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in the release.
The devices were used to devastating effect by the gunman who rained fire on concert-goers in Las Vegas October 1, killing 58 people and injuring more than 850.
But the step is tangible evidence that the department is working toward regulating the devices, however gradual that work might be. The shooter placed bump stocks on several of the rifles he used in the attack, though it is not clear how numerous more than 1,000 rounds he fired came from those guns.
In an October letter to Rep. Carlos Curbelo, ATF President Michael R. Bouchard reiterated the agency's position on bump stocks, describing the devices as "engineered to avoid regulation under federal law". "The law is very clear and it does not now allow ATF to regulate such accessories", Bouchard wrote.
The plan does not address a number of issues supported by gun control advocates, including a ban on bump stocks or raising the minimum age required to purchase a rifle to 21. Several states, including Massachusetts, New Jersey and most recently Washington, have enacted their own bans on the devices in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, as well as the cities of Columbia, South Carolina, and Denver.
"We believe this legislation is important, is useful in improving the background check system - and can pass virtually immediately if there is not obstruction in Congress", a senior administration official said on a conference call.
"Legislation is the only answer", she said.