Gun control debate focus on “bump stocks” after Vegas shooting

Staunch gun-control Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) says "I’m not sure there is any set of laws that could have prevented it."

A bump fire stock that attaches to a semi-automatic rifle to increase the firing rate is seen at Good Guys Gun Shop in Orem, Utah, U.S., October 4, 2017. REUTERS/George Frey

RALEIGH — The U.S. Senate’s No. 2 Republican, John Cornyn (R-Tex.), has called for lawmakers to investigate “bump stock” accessories that increase the rate of fire of certain weapons. This call comes after Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Congress should ban the devices.

The spotlight has fallen on bump stocks after Stephen Paddock, 64, opened fire on a country music festival in Las Vegas, killing more than 50 people and injuring hundreds. Twelve of the 23 guns in his hotel room were fitted with bump stocks, officials said.

Automatic weapons have been illegal in the United States for more than 30 years but devices like bump stocks are allowed under current law.

“If somebody can essentially convert a semi-automatic to an automatic weapon by buying one of these and utilizing it, and cause the kind of mayhem and mass casualties that we saw in Las Vegas, that’s something of obvious concern that we ought to explore,” said Cornyn, the Senate majority whip and a conservative Texas gun owner who has opposed some restrictions on firearms in the past.

Stricter gun laws have been proposed after previous mass shootings, but most Republicans and some Democrats repeatedly have balked at what they see as infringements on the right to bear arms in the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. In this situation, staunch gun-control advocate Feinstein said, “I’m not sure there is any set of laws that could have prevented it.”

Feinstein said 26 senators were co-sponsoring her bill to ban the devices, all Democrats, but she also planned to approach Republicans.

Last year Cornyn and Feinstein tried to find common ground on legislation to keep suspected terrorists from buying firearms after a shooting in Orlando killed 49 people. However, the two senators made different proposals, and both were voted down by the Senate. Some other Republicans, including Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, said they were willing to at least examine Feinstein’s bill on bump stock devices.

“If it comes over from the Senate, I’m willing to look at whatever legislation they think might be prudent,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the conservative Freedom Caucus in the House.

The National Rifle Association said on Sunday it would oppose an outright ban on bump-stock devices. However, the gun rights group, which has seldom embraced new firearms-control measures, stunned gun control advocates last week when it issued a statement voicing willingness to support a restriction on bump stocks.

On Sunday, the organization said it was open to regulation but opposed any legislation banning the devices.

“We don’t believe that bans have ever worked on anything. What we have said has been very clear — that if something transfers a semiautomatic to function like a fully automatic, then it ought to be regulated differently,” Chris Cox, the NRA’s chief lobbyist, said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Cox and Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s chief executive, accused the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives under Democratic former President Barack Obama of paving the way for the use of bump stocks and creating legal confusion about their usage.

In a joint statement, Cox and LaPierre also called for National Right-to-Carry reciprocity, which they say “will allow law-abiding Americans to defend themselves and their families from acts of violence.” The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017 was introduced in January by Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.).

Several Republican lawmakers suggested last week that they were receptive to legislation to curb the use of bump stocks, including Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the No. 2 Republican in the House of Representatives, who said such controls were an area where Congress may be able to act.

But House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican who himself was nearly killed by a gunman earlier this year while at a baseball practice, was cautious on Sunday about potential new legislation.

“I do think it’s a little bit early for people to say they know what to do to fix this problem,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“A week ago most people didn’t know what a bump stock was, so to think that we’re now all experts and know how to write some panacea law, it’s fallacy,” Scalise added.

Investigators remain largely in the dark about what drove Paddock, a retired real estate investor and high-stakes gambler, on Oct. 1 to carry out the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.