It says a lot about the partisan gridlock in Washington that even after a man armed with more than a dozen rifles smashed a hotel window and rained bullets on hundreds of people attending a country music festival in Las Vegas, most Americans assumed Congress would keep doing nothing to prevent another mass shooting.
Just like in 2012, when Republican legislators sabotaged a bipartisan bill that would’ve expanded background checks after Adam Lanza burst into Sandy Hook Elementary School and fatally shot 20 innocent children and six educators.
Or in 2016, when Republicans blocked legislation that would’ve stopped anyone on a terrorism watch list from buying a gun after Omar Mateen shot more than 100 people at Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
Congress has a long and shameful history of inaction and feigned helplessness on gun violence. But after the bloodshed in Las Vegas, shocking even in this era of domestic terrorism and mass shootings, it appears the political winds finally have shifted – even if they’re not shifting far enough.
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On Thursday, the National Rifle Association did an about-face from its normal worship of the Second Amendment and signaled its support for banning the sale of “bump stocks” conversion kits, an idea first proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
Really, it was the only politically palatable thing for the NRA to do.
Stephen Paddock, the 64-year-old retiree who killed 58 people and wounded 489 others from his perch in a Mandalay Bay hotel suite on Sunday, had added bump stocks to a dozen rifles. With them, he was able to fire hundreds of rounds of bullets per minute into the crowd below, inflicting far more damage than he would’ve been able to do otherwise.
“The NRA believes that devices designed to allow semiautomatic rifles to function like fully-automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations,” the gun lobby group said in a statement.
However, the NRA went further, saying it would push so-called reciprocity legislation, which would require states, no matter how strict their gun laws, to honor permits to carry concealed weapons issued by other states, no matter how lax those states’ laws might be. Congress should reject any attempt to link the two issues. “Reciprocity” would violate the ability of California and other strict gun control states to regulate their own affairs.
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has said bump stocks don’t violate federal laws that restrict ownership of fully automatic machine guns. So Feinstein introduced legislation backed by Democrats this week that would ban the conversion kits nationally, as they are in California.
Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Florida Republican, has written a similar bill and Rep. Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican, has been circulating a letter demanding the ATF re-evaluate legality of bump stocks.
The Trump administration as well as several other congressional Republicans have said they are open to a ban, too. Among them, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who told The New York Times: “I own a lot of guns, and as a hunter and sportsman, I think that’s our right as Americans, but I don’t understand the use of this bump stock.”
We’re hopeful all of this talk will amount to action. But it never should’ve taken 547 innocent people getting shot to convince Republicans and the NRA to consider a truly modest gun control policy. Twenty schoolchildren should’ve been enough.
Far better would be for Congress to follow California’s lead, and ban assault-style rifles and large-capacity magazines like those Paddock brought into Mandalay Bay. But if Congress can follow through and bump these bump stocks, we’ll take what we can get.