WASHINGTON — Seeking momentum for gun restrictions, Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Sunday said only broader legislation would be effective in outlawing “bump stocks” like the device used by the Las Vegas gunman. But the National Rifle Association urged more limited regulations that stopped short of a ban.
It was a sign of a rocky road ahead for action by Congress even with growing bipartisan support for regulating or banning the devices that convert semi-automatic weapons into rapid-fire guns.
“Regulations aren’t going to do it. We need a law. It can’t be changed by another president,” said Feinstein, D-Calif., a longtime advocate of stricter gun control measures who introduced legislation to outlaw bump stocks. She lamented the stratified lines of debate in “a gun-happy country.”
The debate over how to regulate bump stocks comes in the aftermath of the shooting at a Las Vegas music festival last week that killed more than 50 people and injured 500, America’s deadliest in modern history. The NRA, some senior congressional Republicans and the Trump administration have expressed openness in restricting bump stocks, but lawmakers remain divided over whether to rely on legislation or push for an executive branch order.
Bump stocks are accessories that substitute for the regular stock and grip of a semi-automatic rifle and allow the weapon to fire continuously, some 400 to 800 rounds in a single minute. Bump stocks were found among the weapons used by sniper suspect Stephen Paddock and explain why victims in Las Vegas heard what sounded like automatic-weapons fire.
The bump stock device, which retails for around $200, causes the gun to buck back and forth, repeatedly “bumping” the trigger against the shooter’s finger. Technically, that means the finger is pulling the trigger for each round fired, keeping the weapon a legal semi-automatic. Because it creates a significant rocking motion it also means that the gun is “spraying” bullets and it’s difficult to hit a target.
Adding to the uncertainty over the devices, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said last week it was in no position to re-examine its 2010 judgment that bump stocks were legal and that Congress would have to act.
On Sunday, the NRA reiterated its support for limited regulation, saying too much public focus was being spent on restricting devices rather than preventing bad human behavior. A leader of the gun rights group insisted it was ATF’s responsibility — not Congress’ — to reconsider the agency’s 2010 decision allowing the sale of bump stocks.
“We think ATF ought to do its job, look at this, and draw a bright line,” said Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the National Rifle Association. He said the group has been clear in supporting current law that bans fully automatic firearms and is concerned that action by Congress could “fuzz the line” such as by imposing new restrictions on semi-automatic weapons.
Feinstein said her legislation banning bump stocks had attracted “Republican interest” although the 38 co-sponsors so far were all Democrats. The No. 2 Senate Republican, John Cornyn of Texas, has said he’s open to legislation and that he’d spoken with Judiciary Committee Chuck Grassley, who was interested in holding a hearing.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., who heads the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee, said Sunday he would be willing to support bump stock restrictions either by fiat or by a new law. “However that gets fixed, I’ll support it,” he said.
Seeking broader consensus, Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said that if Republicans were willing to pass a bill banning bump stock devices — like those used by the Las Vegas hotel sniper — he would support the legislation, even if it was not accompanied by any other restrictions of weapons purchases. Murphy, an ardent supporter of gun control after the 2012 mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, said he would be willing to hold off for his broader goal, the institution of background checks for weapons buyers, if the Senate agrees on a narrower bump stock ban.
Feinstein spoke on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and CBS’ “Face the Nation,” LaPierre also was on CBS and Murphy and Johnson were on CNN’s “State of the Union.”