Congress tar­gets bump stocks

With NRA sup­port, law­mak­ers mull reg­u­la­tion, ban on ri­fle add-on

New Haven Register (New Haven, CT) - - FRONT PAGE - By Dan Freed­man

A move to ban bump-stock de­vices is ac­cel­er­at­ing in Congress, with some Repub­li­cans join­ing Con­necti­cut’s two sen­a­tors and other Democrats in call­ing for scru­tiny of the add-on the Las Ve­gas shooter used to turn sin­gleshot ri­fles into ma­chine guns.

In a ma­jor sur­prise, the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion said Thurs­day the de­vices “should be sub­ject to ad­di­tional reg­u­la­tions.”

On Thurs­day, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., a staunch gun­rights sup­porter, said the le­gal­ity of the bump stock is “some­thing that we need to look into.”

Asked about bump-stock con­trols, White House Press Sec­re­tary Sarah Huck­abee San­ders said, “We’re cer­tainly open to hav­ing that con­ver­sa­tion.”

On Wed­nes­day, a slew of Repub­li­can sen­a­tors in­clud­ing John Cornyn, R-Texas; Lind­sey Gra­ham, R-S.C.; Or­rin Hatch, R-Utah, and Marco Ru­bio, R-Fla., said they, too, were open to bump-stock con­trols.

Con­necti­cut’s Demo­cratic law­mak­ers are used to mass shoot­ings, such as New­town in 2012, be­ing

met by re­sis­tance from Repub­li­cans — and some Democrats — to any new gun laws.

Af­ter the Sandy Hook El­e­men­tary School shoot­ings that took the lives of 20 first-graders and six adult staff mem­bers, the Demo­crat-con­trolled Se­nate in 2013 fell six votes short of over­com­ing a fil­i­buster against uni­ver­sal back­ground checks.

A dif­fer­ent re­ac­tion

Few in Wash­ing­ton ex­pected a dif­fer­ent re­ac­tion af­ter Las Ve­gas shooter Stephen Pad­dock used an arse­nal of 18 weapons to spray fire Sun­day at a coun­try mu­sic fes­ti­val, killing 58 and wound­ing 515.

But law­mak­ers of both par­ties have keyed in on Pad­dock’s pos­ses­sion of 12 bump-stock de­vices, which en­abled him to up the death toll by turn­ing his sin­gletrig­ger-pull, semi­au­to­matic ri­fles into weapons that im­i­tate ma­chine guns.

“This does feel dif­fer­ent,” said Sen. Chris Mur­phy, who along with fel­low Con­necti­cut Sen. Richard Blu­men­thal and other Democrats held the Se­nate floor for nearly 15 hours last year to force ul­ti­mately un­suc­cess­ful gun-law votes in the wake of the Pulse night­club mass shoot­ing in Or­lando.

“I’m glad Repub­li­cans are open to reg­u­la­tion of these de­vices,” Mur­phy said. He and Blu­men­thal co-spon­sored leg­is­la­tion in­tro­duced Wed­nes­day by Sen. Dianne Fe­in­stein, D-Calif., that would ban the sale, pos­ses­sion and im­por­ta­tion of bump-stock de­vices.

“It’s still a long up­hill road,” Blu­men­thal said. Nev­er­the­less, he added, he was “sur­prised” by Repub­li­cans, “be­cause their stan­dard, knee-jerk re­ac­tion is im­pla­ca­ble op­po­si­tion.”

Rep. El­iz­a­beth Esty, DConn., who rep­re­sents New­town and serves as vice-chair­woman of the Demo­cratic House Gun Vi­o­lence Pre­ven­tion Task Force, said: “I’m happy to see progress of any sort. I think we have a de­cent pos­si­bil­ity of get­ting this passed.”

The pres­i­dent of Con­necti­cut’s lead­ing gun­rights or­ga­ni­za­tion, the Con­necti­cut Cit­i­zens De­fense League, said he was wary of any calls for new gun laws in the af­ter­math of mass shoot­ings. “Our con­cern as an or­ga­ni­za­tion is that bans on inan­i­mate ob­jects al­ways lead to more bans on other items,” Scott Wil­son said. “It never seems to end.”

A nu­anced dis­tinc­tion

Ma­chine guns were sub­ject to strict reg­u­la­tion in 1934 and banned out­right in 1986, with the ex­cep­tion of weapons made be­fore the law’s ef­fec­tive date.

Later Thurs­day, Ryan sug­gested bump stocks might be sub­ject to a reg­u­la­tory so­lu­tion rather than a leg­isla­tive one.

“Fully au­to­matic weapons have been out­lawed for many, many years,” Ryan said. “This seems to be a way of go­ing around that. So ob­vi­ously we need to look at how we can tighten up the com­pli­ance with this law so that fully au­to­matic weapons are banned.”

The NRA and some Repub­li­can House mem­bers said it was up to the Bu­reau of Al­co­hol, To­bacco, Firearms & Ex­plo­sives to eval­u­ate bump stocks and make sure they com­ply with these laws.

ATF agents test-fired the de­vices and judged them by the gov­ern­ment’s le­gal stan­dard: A ri­fle that dis­charges a sin­gle bul­let with each trig­ger pull is le­gal; a ri­fle that dis­charges a burst of bul­lets with each trig­ger pull is not.

Be­cause bump-stock de­vices har­ness the nat­u­ral re­coil of a ri­fle dis­charge to cham­ber ad­di­tional rounds and fire re­peat­edly, the ATF de­ter­mined they met the sin­gle-trig­ger-pull stan­dard.

“We don’t take a po­si­tion on whether we like an item or don’t like an item,” ATF se­nior firearms en­force­ment of­fi­cer Max Kingery said in a 2013 in­ter­view with Hearst News­pa­pers at the bu­reau’s fa­cil­ity in Martins­burg, West Vir­ginia. “We sim­ply clas­sify it ac­cord­ing to the law.”

Ge­orge Frey / Getty Images

A bump stock de­vice that fits on a semi-au­to­matic ri­fle to in­crease the fir­ing speed is seen in­stalled on an AK-47 semi-au­to­matic ri­fle at a gun store in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Manuel Balce Ceneta / As­so­ci­ated Press

U.S. Sen. Richard Blu­men­thal, D-Conn., speaks dur­ing a news con­fer­ence about gun leg­is­la­tion on Capi­tol Hill in Wash­ing­ton on Wed­nes­day.

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