We’re relieved congressional Republicans appear ready to consider a limited form of gun control: banning the bump stock, the rapid-firing device used in the Las Vegas massacre.
We’re stunned the National Rifle Association seems to agree. What a significant moment this could be, in the wake of a horrendous criminal act, for the national conversation about gun rights and gun culture.
The sniper who slaughtered more than 50 people and wounded nearly 500 at an outdoor concert possessed numerous weapons, including some retrofitted with bump stocks. This allowed the shooter to fire at a near-continuous rate, as if raking his target area with a machine gun.
Why on earth would any private individual need access to a weapon of war? That’s the question even adamant defenders of the Second Amendment right to gun possession appear willing to ask in the wake of Las Vegas. Our answer is that there is no compelling reason to give civilians the firepower of the infantry.
The history of machine gun regulations dates to Chicago’s gangster era of the 1920s and early ’30s. The bad guys shot each other up with Tommy guns. The National Firearms Act of 1934 clamped down on machine guns by imposing tax and registration restrictions. These days, the sale of automatic weapons to civilians is banned, and the sale of automatic weapons manufactured before 1986 is closely regulated and monitored.
Then in 2010, manufacturers began offering the bump stock, a $100 to $400 conversion device that allows a semi-automatic rifle to fire at close to the same rate as a machine gun. It does this by replacing the stock and pistol grip with a piece of equipment that harnesses recoil power to bump the trigger back and forth repeatedly against the shooter’s finger.
The added lethality of a bump stock is grotesque: The Las Vegas shooter appeared to fire as many as 90 bullets in 10 seconds. Without such a device, it would take several minutes to deliver that many rounds. You can find YouTube videos that show shooting experts testing bump stock devices, and even one of them sounded concerned about the availability of such firepower for as little as 99 bucks. “The packaging this thing came in said ‘spray 600 rounds a minute,’” one expert says on his video. “That’s right: ‘Spray 600 rounds a minute.’ They’ve since changed that on their website to say ‘safe and precise,’ but I think the people behind this could learn a couple lessons.”
Gun violence in America is an epidemic. There are steps lawmakers can take — such as requiring background checks on all purchases, and limiting the capacity of magazine clips — that would address the scourge without tramping on the Second Amendment. Yet gun rights proponents, led by the NRA, in the past have responded as if they were being told the confiscation of all weapons begins at dawn. Even after the 2012 murder of 26 people, including 20 first-graders, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, the debate was shut down by those who see gun ownership as a fundamental right protected by the Constitution.
Then came Las Vegas: dozens dead at the hands of a sniper mowing down concertgoers as if he were strafing an enemy battalion. It’s too much for even the NRA to ignore.
Republicans, joined of course by many Democrats, now sound ready to look closely at the bump stock. “I own a lot of guns, and as a hunter and sportsman, I think that’s our right as Americans,” Texas Sen. John Cornyn said. “But I don’t understand the use of this bump stock.” On Thursday, the NRA said such devices “should be subject to additional regulations.”
Bump stocks and the like should be banned. They serve no justifiable purpose. Republicans, move on this. Don’t expect public pressure to fade. Ban these killing machines. Las Vegas was a moment the country never wanted that it must confront. This should be the starting point for the reasonable gun debate America needs.