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Momentum builds for ban on ‘bump stocks’ for rifles

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), speaks

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), speaks at Republican National Committee Headquarters on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 26, 2017. Credit: AP

WASHINGTON — Momentum gathered in Washington Thursday to ban “bump stocks,” such as the ones used by the Las Vegas shooter, as the White House said it was open to discussing it and even the National Rifle Association said those devices should be regulated.

Republicans and Democrats began calling for the ban on the devices after police said gunman Stephen Paddock used them to convert his semi-automatic rifles to shoot as rapidly as a machine gun when he fired on a large concert crowd, killing 58 and wounding 489.

A bump stock replaces a rifle’s fixed stock and slides back and forth with the kickback of each shot as the shooter holds a finger on the trigger. It turns single-shot firing into a rapid machine gun-like spray.

But the move to ban bump stocks could get bogged down in a debate over whether Congress should pass legislation, as several lawmakers are urging, or the administration should review and impose new regulations, as the NRA called for in a statement.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) introduced legislation to ban the devices and urged quick passage. “I hope senators will finally summon the political courage to stand up and say, ‘Enough is enough,’ ” Feinstein said.

The NRA in a statement departed from its usual opposition to any restrictions involving firearms by calling for a review of “whether these devices comply with federal law,” adding that it believes “that devices designed to allow semi-automatic rifles to function like fully-automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations.”

Top Republicans and the White House called for more fact-finding about the little-known device. “Clearly that’s something we need to look into,” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), an NRA ally and supporter of gun rights, told radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt in an excerpt released Thursday by MSNBC. “I didn’t even know what they were until this week.”

More than a dozen Republican senators are open to a ban. They include Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) and Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), both members of the Republican Senate leadership. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, is expected to hold a hearing.

The Trump administration welcomes and seeks to be part of the discussion about bump stocks, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday.

“We would like to see a clear understanding of the facts, and we’d like to see input from the victims’ families, from law enforcement, from policy-makers,” Sanders said. “We’re expecting hearings and other important fact-finding efforts on that. And we want to be part of that discussion, and we’re certainly open to that moving forward.”

Trump later responded to questions about bump stocks by saying, “We’ll be looking into that over the next short period of time.”

Underlying the debate are the hard lines dividing advocates for unfettered Second Amendment rights and those for gun restrictions.

In its statement, the NRA also called for passage of a bill that would allow gun owners to carry concealed weapons nationally. And Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called for stricter background checks. “Bump stocks can’t be our only response,” he said of the proposed ban.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives approved of the sale of bump stocks in 2010. “The stock has no automatically functioning mechanical parts or springs and performs no automatic mechanical function when installed,” the ATF said. “Accordingly, we find that the ‘bump-stock’ is a firearm part and is not regulated as a firearm under Gun Control Act or the National Firearms Act.”

Feinstein said that legislation is needed to ban the devices because technology has made the definition of automatic weapons obsolete.

“Federal regulation won’t be able to fully close this loophole,” Feinstein said. “Legislation would make crystal clear that Congress is banning all devices that allow a weapon to achieve an automatic rate of fire, regardless of how a weapon is altered.”

Meanwhile in Albany, a bipartisan bill was introduced in the State Legislature Thursday that would close a loophole in New York law that allows the sale of bump stocks and other devices for rifles. The bill would ban possession and transportation of the devices after a phase-in period.

With Michael Gormley

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