On October 1st, 2017, fifty-eight people were killed in Las Vegas by a down-on-his-luck gambler and gun fanatic raining bullets on a crowded outdoor concert from the thirty-second floor of an adjacent hotel. Injuries numbered in the hundreds.
Though we do not fully know his motive, we do know the means he used to inflict so much damage on innocent music fans: an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle outfitted with a “bump stock,” a device that utilizes the rifle’s recoil energy to trigger another round from the gun. A bump stock efficiently turns a semi-automatic rifle into a poor man’s machine gun, as one trigger pull initiates a cascade of recoil trigger pulls.
After the Las Vegas shooting, there was much public handwringing from lawmakers, many of whom vowed to regulate the sale of bump stocks and other similar devices. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., and Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass, introduced a bill to restrict the sale and manufacture of devices intended to “increase the rate of a semiautomatic rifle but does not convert a rifle into a machine gun or other purposes.” The bill garnered eighteen co-sponsors, split evenly between Democrats and Republicans.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan dissembled, blaming the ATF for not regulating bump stocks, a smart way to deflect attention from a lack of legislative action. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell similarly favored inaction, claiming shortly after the Las Vegas event that it was too soon to talk about legislation, bringing to mind Rabbi Hillel’s question for the ages: “If not now, when?” The NRA gave a mealy-mouthed endorsement in favor of banning bump stocks before turning around to give an equally mealy-mouthed statement calling for more analysis. Translation: delay until hell freezes over.
And now, 60 days after the shooting, nothing has been done at the national level. Bump stocks were approved for sale subsequent to Obama administration review, ostensibly enable disabled hunters to fire a weapon. This disingenuous pitch worked swimmingly for bump stock manufacturers because no requirement was attached to the approval saying buyers should actually be disabled. Thus, a device (not a gun) that allowed Stephen Paddock to kill 58 people is still on the shelves, for anyone to purchase, regardless of training, mental health, or disabled status.
I have no quarrel with hunters, disabled or not, legally purchasing guns for sport. Nor do I object to people spending an afternoon at the firing range with a high-powered rifle or sidearm. Properly vetted individuals should be allowed to own a weapon for personal protection, although I believe the current vetting process is inadequate. But since the 1930s, the United States intentionally banned the sale of machine guns to the general public. The law is complicated, with various avenues for legal ownership of a machine gun, but the intent of the law is clear: machine guns are not an appropriate weapon for civilian use.
The NRA has consistently pushed back on any reasonable firearm legislation, and gun owners, for whatever reason, have sought out ways to circumvent the law barring automatic fire weapons, bump stocks being a prime example. Congress, functioning as the NRA’s lapdog, has obliged the demand for workarounds and loopholes.
Banning bump stocks would be a natural legislative response to the Las Vegas massacre, a small measured response that would not affect the majority of gun owners. Once again, Congress has rolled over for the NRA and failed the American people. How long must we wait for reasonable gun legislation?