Ryan urges ATF to fix 'bump stock' gun loophole

Ryan urges ATF to fix 'bump stock' gun loophole
© Greg Nash

Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanThe Hill Interview: Budget Chair Black sticks around for now Gun proposal picks up GOP support GOP lawmaker Tim Murphy to retire at end of term MORE (R-Wis.) said Wednesday the Trump administration should move quickly to ban a device used in the Las Vegas mass shooting that allows semi-automatic weapons to fire more rapidly.

“We think the regulatory fix is the smartest, quickest fix, and I’d frankly like to know how it happened in the first place,” Ryan said at a news conference in the Capitol.

Democrats and a handful of Republicans are calling on Congress to pass legislation to ban the devices, known as “bump stocks.” But most Republicans, including Ryan, prefer the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to close the bump stock loophole and change the regulation.

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Police say the suspected Las Vegas gunman, Stephen Paddock, had equipped a dozen of his weapons with bump stocks. The worst shooting in modern U.S. history left 58 people dead and more than 500 more injured.

In 2010, a company that manufactures bump stocks asked the Obama administration to rule whether the device was subject to the 1986 gun law that banned machine guns and other firearm devices. The ATF ruled that bump stocks were legal.

“We are still trying to assess why the ATF let this go through in the first place. What happened on the regulatory side to allow this to occur in the first place?” Ryan asked.

Those pushing for a legislative fix argue that congressional action is both more permanent and would allow for additional ATF funding to underwrite the agency's expanded responsibilities.

“A ruling isn’t binding, it can be changed back," David Chipman, a former ATF special agent who now advises Americans for Responsible Solutions, a gun reform group, told a group of reporters last Friday at the group's headquarters in Washington.

"I’m not saying that will happen, but it doesn’t have the permanency” of legislation, he said.

Still, the advocates also acknowledged that tougher regulations are better than no change at all.

“It would be better if Congress passed legislation … but the goal here is to save people’s lives,” said Mark Kelly, a former Navy captain who founded Americans for Responsible Solutions with his wife, former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who was almost killed during a mass shooting at a constituent even in Tucson, Ariz., in 2011.

“So ultimately if all we get is the regulatory fix to this, you do wind up with basically the same situation, where somebody is going to have to go through a much more stringent process to get [bump stocks].”