An inveterate advocate of increased gun control, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced a bill on Wednesday to ban the sale and possession of so-called bump-stock equipment and other devices that modify semiautomatic rifles in order to fire at near-automatic rates of fire. According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), several such bump stocks were found in the hotel room used by Stephen Paddock, the 64-year-old shooter, who opened fire during the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival on Sunday, killing 59 people and injuring over 500 others.
If it is passed, it would go into effect within 180 days. The language in the bill states:
“It shall be unlawful for any person to import, sell, manufacture, transfer or possess, in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce, a trigger crank, a bump-fire device or any part, combination of parts, component, device, attachment or accessory that is designed or functions to accelerate the rate of fire of a semiautomatic rifle but not convert the semiautomatic rifle into a machine gun.”
However, the ban would not apply to possession or sales of the devices by federal agencies or departments.
Feinstein, who in 2013 authored an assault weapons ban bill, which failed 40-60 in the Senate, currently has 24 co-sponsors of the bill, all Democrats. She claimed that her daughter had planned to attend the concert in Las Vegas, where the carnage took place. Back in December 1995, Feinstein went to the floor of the Senate and spoke on the issue of "assault weapons." "If I had my way, I would ban the possession of assault weapons anywhere in the United States of America, but there were not going to be the votes for that," she said, according to a transcript in the Congressional Record.
Republican leaders have criticized the multiple calls from Democrats and gun control advocates who are demanding further restrictions on possessing firearms. "I think it's particularly inappropriate to politicize an event like this," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday. "The investigation's not even been completed. And I think it's premature to be discussing legislative solutions if there are any." He added, "In the meantime, our priority is on tax reform, as my colleagues have indicated."
Some Republicans signalled that they may support such legislation. While no Republican has yet to join Democrats in endorsing the bill. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX), the second-ranking Senate Republican who sits on the Judiciary Committee, asked his staff to research bump stocks and said it would be “worthwhile” to have a hearing on the topic. In an interview with POLITICO, Cornyn said, “It is ordinarily illegal to transform a semi-automatic weapon into an automatic weapon, and it’s illegal to buy an automatic weapon unless you have a special license and undergo a special background check.” Cornyn said, “I’m not sure how these bump stocks fit into that scheme, but that’s certainly something that’s got my attention and I think we ought to get to the bottom of it.”
South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the No. 3 Senate Republican, said several GOP colleagues are interested in finding out more about how bump stocks are utilized. “I think it’s something we ought to look into,” Thune said. “I don’t know a lot about them and I’m somebody who, I’d like to think, is fairly familiar with a lot of firearms and you know, the use of those. And that incident out there is something that I think we need to take a look at.”
Senate Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson (R-WI) said he would support legislation to bar the purchase of bump stocks, saying that they should be subject to the same ban as automatic weapons.
Use of bump stocks became more common after the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said in 2010 that it would not object to their sale.
“Bump stocks — which cost less than $200 — increase a semi-automatic rifle’s rate of fire from between 45 to 60 rounds per minute to between 400 to 800 rounds per minute. That’s the same rate of fire as automatic weapons,” Feinstein, a longtime gun-control advocate, told reporters. “The only reason to modify a gun is to kill as many people as possible in as short as time as possible.”
The sale of automatic weapons is tightly regulated by a 1986 law, among others, that bans their possession or transfer. Conversion kits are also banned.
“We’re looking at that too. I wasn’t familiar with them until this came up. So we’re looking at that and studying the issue,” added Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). “It’s a terrible tragedy and we should look at it.” Saying that he is not a "gun nut," Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) said he has asked a close friend to explain the technical specifications of bump stocks. While he said a ban should not be dismissed, he worried that Democrats will push legislation before Republicans familiarize themselves with the matter. Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) would not dismiss the proposal bu wants to “think through” how a narrow piece of gun legislation may become part of a broader effort on concealed carry, background checks, and other measures that are unlikely to get the 60 votes needed to advance in the Senate. Other Republicans apparently open to discussing bump stocks are Sens. Mike Rounds (S.D.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and David Perdue (GA).
Conservative Republicans say they will resist efforts to restrict gun use, including limits on the rapid-fire devices. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) said, “I’m not for any gun control, OK? None.” Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) said he does not want to punish the "90 million gun owners" because of the actions on the part of an "idiot." Kennedy added, "Just like I don’t think we ought to condemn all Muslims because of the act of one jihadist.”
Democrats worry that Second Amendment advocacy groups will interfere. “My only pessimism comes in our failure to address the terror watch list in the wake of Orlando. That seemed like no brainer just like bump stocks seem like a no-brainer,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT). “And ultimately we couldn’t get there but you’ve got to walk before you can run and if we could find some small agreement on bump stocks, that’s meaningful progress." For his part, he said on Wednesday that he is open to banning even semi-automatic rifles.