Senate panel spars with Trump administration over treatment of unaccompanied immigrant children
Gun proposal picks up GOP support
A Democratic proposal to ban a special accessory known as a bump stock, which allows semi-automatic guns to fire several hundred rounds a minute, is gaining unexpected support from Republicans in both chambers.
It's the first time gun-control legislation has picked up significant Republican support since immediately after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in late 2012. Bump stocks were allegedly used by the gunman who killed 59 people at a Las Vegas concert Sunday.
While some GOP members are backing the Democrat-sponsored measure, the effort has many hurdles to clear. To become law, it would have to be embraced by Republican leaders on Capitol Hill and President Trump, who was endorsed by the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA) last year.
Rep. Bill Flores (Texas), a former Republican Study Committee chairman, was the first Republican in Congress to publicly endorse a ban on bump stocks.
"I think they should be banned. There's no reason for a typical gun owner to own anything that converts a semi-automatic to something that behaves like an automatic," Flores, a gun owner, told The Hill in an interview just off the House floor.
"Based on the videos I heard and saw, and now that I've studied up on what a bump stock is - I didn't know there was such a thing - there's no reason for it," he said.
"I have no problem from banning myself from owning it."
Gun-rights advocates argue that rapid-fire weapons are fun to shoot and are used regularly by law-abiding citizens without incident.
A bump stock is a sliding stock that when pressed against a shooter's shoulder allows a semi-automatic gun to shift backward and forward with the recoil of each shot fired. It allows a shooter to fire as many as 400 to 800 rounds a minute with a single squeeze of the trigger, as the sliding action of the rifle replaces the need to contract the index finger.
Until Monday, few lawmakers on Capitol Hill had ever heard of the device.
Flores was joined by several House Republican moderates, including Reps. Charlie Dent (Pa.), Ryan Costello (Pa.), Leonard Lance (N.J.) and Pete King (N.Y.), in saying it should be banned.
"I'm ready to say that they should not be in public use. I think they are a problem. I support a ban on bump stocks. I don't see any purpose for them," Dent told The Hill.
"The law is clear to me that automatic weapons are banned in this country, as they should be," he added.
Costello said, "Purchasing bump stocks off the shelf, enabling a semi-automatic firearm to replicate an automatic one, is a loophole that needs to be closed."
Lance, who represents a district that Hillary Clinton won last year, stated, "Bump stocks should be banned. Fully-automatic weapons are already illegal in this country so any mechanism that essentially converts semi-automatic firearms into fully automatic weapons should also be illegal."
King previously co-authored legislation with Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) to expand background checks to cover all commercial firearm sales, including those purchased at gun shows and online.
Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), who also represents a district that Clinton won, said Wednesday that he will introduce legislation to ban bump stocks in the next few days.
Persuading Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to schedule a vote on legislation banning bump stocks could be difficult, however.
Until Sunday's mass shooting in Nevada, House Republican leaders were planning to advance a gun-rights bill. The Sportsmen's Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act would loosen restrictions on silencers and armor-piercing ammunition, two proposals strongly opposed by gun-control advocates.
Ryan said Tuesday that the bill is now off the schedule.
In the Senate, Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) on Wednesday said that he too would support banning bump stocks.
He views the relatively cheap accessory, which costs between $140 and $300, as a loophole to the 1986 law that heavily restricted the sale and possession of machine guns.
"The fact that fully-automatic weapons are already illegal and this makes another weapon capable [of automatic fire], I would be supportive of that," Johnson said when asked Wednesday about a proposed bump-stock ban.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, is spearheading the plan and circulated a summary of it at a lunch meeting with Democratic colleagues Tuesday.
The proposal appears to have as much early momentum as the bill to expand background checks that came to the Senate floor in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting in Connecticut.
That measure narrowly failed by a vote of 54 to 46 - six votes short of the number needed to end a filibuster.
Since then, gun-control legislation has had little momentum in Congress.
Johnson said it's a straightforward call "unless I'm missing something here, but I don't think I am."
"To me that's already illegal," he said of unregulated sales of machine guns. "So you shouldn't have anything that facilitates that so easily."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), however, hasn't shown any appetite to jump immediately into a debate over gun-control legislation.
"The investigation has not even been completed, and I think it's premature to be discussing legislative solutions if there are any," he told reporters Tuesday.
The NRA hasn't commented publicly on legislation that would ban bump stocks.
Lawmakers are scrambling to learn more about the devices.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said she watched videos of rifles firing hundreds of rounds per minute to understand how the special stock works.
"It appears very troubling that this accessory can be purchased so easily and be used to massively increase the firepower of a rifle," Collins told reporters.
Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (Texas) on Tuesday said the Judiciary Committee should hold hearings on the issue.
"I think we need a hearing in the Judiciary Committee. I know everyone thinks they have all the information they need but I think that needs to develop as part of this investigation," he said.
Stephen Paddock, who police say opened fire on a crowd of 22,000 people from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas, was found with 12 rifles outfitted with bump stocks in his suite. Police say Paddock killed himself as authorities closed in on him.
Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune (S.D.), the third-ranking member of the GOP leadership, said that several Republicans have expressed interest in restricting bump stocks.
"It's worth having a conversation about and some of our members agree with that," he said.
The strong bipartisan interest for a debate on banning bump stocks could set up a fight with GOP leaders later this year.
Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) questioned whether McConnell would allow votes on gun-control legislation.
Senate Democrats could try to force a vote on bump-stock restrictions, background checks and other measures during the wide-open vote-a-rama that accompanies the budget resolution, which is due to come to the floor later this month.
Amendments attached to the budget are nonbinding, but a strong vote in favor of banning bump stocks could put pressure on GOP leaders to allow a vote on a binding amendment later this year.
House Democrats could launch a discharge petition, but they would need 218 signatures to force a vote on the floor. That would require all Democrats and 24 Republicans to buck their leaders.
Trump this week has indicated a willingness to discuss gun laws, but has said now is not the time. On the campaign trail last year, Trump went against the NRA by backing bipartisan legislation that would prevent people suspected of terrorist ties from buying or owning guns. Since winning the election, he hasn't called on Congress to act on the bill.