In the aftermath of the slaughter in Las Vegas, national attention has turned to “bump-stock” or “bump-fire” kits, which modify semi-automatic weapons by allowing them to use the recoil of a shot to activate the trigger.
This simulates automatic weapons fire by allowing rapid bursts of ammunition without multiple trigger pulls. Twelve such bump stocks were found at the scene of the Vegas massacre, and that may explain how the shooter was able to fire off multiple rounds at a much greater speed than that afforded by a typical semi-automatic rifle.
Congressional Republicans and the NRA are willing to consider banning bump stocks
“I own a lot of guns, and as a hunter and sportsman, I think that’s our right as Americans, but I don’t understand the use of this bump stock,” Senator John Cornyn of Texas told the New York Times.
Congressional Republicans are now willing to consider banning bump stocks. Perhaps more surprisingly, the National Rifle Association has signaled that it might not oppose such a ban. The Wall Street Journal reported:
The National Rifle Association on Thursday signaled it could support some restrictions on the devices, called bump stocks, easing the way for action since Republicans often follow the group’s lead on gun policy. The NRA and GOP lawmakers also left open the possibility that they might seek action from the administration, rather than new legislation, to add new guardrails around the device’s use.
But the “bump stock” that Sen. Cornyn was referencing is not a firearm. In a letter dated June 7, 2010, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms determined that a bump stock “has no automatically functioning mechanical parts or springs and performs no automatic mechanical function when installed. Accordingly, we find the ‘bump-stock’ is a firearm part and is not regulated as a firearm under [the] Gun Control Act or the National Firearms Act.”
A bump stock ban would be very different from past gun control measures the NRA has supported
This is significant, because automatic weapons have, with rare exceptions, been banned from regular public purchase and use for more than 80 years.
It is also a felony to alter a semi-automatic weapon to make such fully automatic.
Yet even though a bump stock can, as altered, convert a semi-automatic firearm to an automatic gun, the absence of any automatic function in the bump stock itself exempts it from those regulations.
Until their comments on Thursday, the National Rifle Association had been uncharacteristically quiet about the call for banning bump stocks. In the House, Florida Republican Carlos Curbelo is drafting legislation to ban bump stocks, echoing California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein’s similar efforts in the upper chamber.
After every mass shooting, the calls to “do something” are nearly deafening, and much of the criticism is aimed at recalcitrant Republicans. The political dynamics in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting may suggest a change in the political climate on this issue.
(Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, point to a photograph of a rifle with a “bump stock” during a news conference to announce proposed gun control legislation at the U.S. Capitol October 4, 2017, the October 1 mass shooting in Las Vegas that left 59 people dead and hundreds injured. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.)