For a few days after the deadliest mass killing in modern U.S. history, Republican leaders in Congress sounded as if they might be open to banning devices, known as "bump stocks," that enabled the Las Vegas shooter to turn his semiautomatics into even more effective killing machines.
“Clearly, that’s something we need to look into,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said. “This is definitely an area where we’re going to look and be able to act on,” said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. The Senate’s second in command, John Cornyn of Texas, made similar comments, adding that he had asked the Judiciary Committee chairman to hold a hearing.
Sanity did not prevail for long. After a signal from the National Rifle Association, spineless lawmakers have done exactly what the gun lobby wants. Absolutely nothing.
Never mind that one month ago Wednesday in Las Vegas, the shooter used bump stocks to fire off more than 300 rounds in two minutes from his hotel room. Or that 58 people were murdered in a dozen bursts of rapid gunfire. Or that more than 500 were injured, at least 160 struck by gunfire. That some might never walk again. That a young woman’s right eye was shot out. That another woman was rendered a quadriplegic.
Four days after the shooting, fearing that “there were enough votes in the … Republican pro-gun House” to pass some type of ban on bump stocks, the NRA put out a statement to “slow the process down,” the NRA’s Chris Cox told a YouTube interviewer last week.
The group called on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to look into “whether these devices comply with federal law.” Passing a new law was not even mentioned. The NRA also got in a dig at the Obama administration for approving the sale of bump stocks.
Well, guess what? Manufacturers of gun devices are smart. Because of technicalities in the way bump stocks work and technicalities in federal gun control laws that ban automatic weapons, the devices cleverly circumvent, but do not necessarily violate, those laws.
While bump stocks allow semiautomatics to mimic automatic weapons, they don’t technically turn them into those banned weapons. The ATF cannot write regulations that go beyond the law, as the agency explained in 2013 after a ruling that bump stocks were not illegal under the gun control act.
In other words, only Congress can change the law.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has 39 Democratic co-sponsors on a measure that would ban bump stocks and similar devices. In the House, 13 Republicans and 13 Democrats have joined to push similar legislation. But neither bill has gotten a hearing, typically the first step toward moving a measure to the floor for a vote.
Who knows how many lives might have been spared, or injuries avoided, if the shooter had not been able to fire so many rounds so rapidly? Any political leader interested more in public safety than the desires of the gun lobby would understand that such devices aren't needed — except, perhaps, by someone like Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock, intent on creating the most carnage in the shortest amount of time.
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