Congress targets bump stocks
With NRA support, lawmakers mull regulation, ban on rifle add-on
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.”
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.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., speaks during a news conference about gun legislation on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday.