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NRA gives ground on bump stocks
The National Rifle Association (NRA) on Thursday broke its silence on the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, calling for additional regulations on bump stocks, which allow semi-automatic guns to fire hundreds of rounds per minute.
Traditionally one of the most powerful special interest groups in Washington, the NRA almost always opposes proposals to strengthen gun control laws or regulations.
But with rising support in both parties for reviewing and possibly restricting bump stocks, the gun rights group is taking a cautious approach.
"The NRA believes that devices designed to allow semi-automatic rifles to function like fully-automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations," NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre and executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action Chris Cox said in a joint statement.
Stephen Paddock, the gunman who killed at least 58 people at a country music concert in Las Vegas over the weekend, was found dead on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel. Inside the room, where Paddock had been firing on the crowd, police found 12 rifles outfitted with bump stocks.
Bump stocks allow semi-automatic rifles to slide back and forth, bumping rapidly against a shooter's trigger finger. By applying forward pressure on a rifle barrel and giving the trigger just one sustained squeeze, a shooter can fire 400 to 800 rounds per minute, depending on the type of firearm.
The NRA called for a new study by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to review whether the special accessories comply with federal law, including the Firearms Owner Protection Act, which banned the civilian sale of fully-automatic guns manufactured after May 1986.
"Despite the fact that the Obama administration approved the sale of bump fire stocks on at least two occasions, the National Rifle Association is calling on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives ... to immediately review whether these devices comply with federal law," LaPierre and Cox said.
It was a rare concession from a group that has repeatedly defeated nearly every effort to limit gun rights on Capitol Hill.
The NRA helped turn back a bipartisan proposal in 2013 sponsored by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) that would have expanded background checks, even though polls showed it had broad public support.
La Pierre and Cox said the NRA remains focused on its mission: "Strengthening Americans' Second Amendment freedom to defend themselves, their families and their communities."
To that end, the group's leaders called on Congress to pass a pending "reciprocity" bill that would make it easier for people who have permits to carry concealed firearms across state lines.
In recent weeks, the NRA had pushed for a House bill that would deregulate gun silencers and limit the government's power to ban armor-piercing ammunition.
The bill was initially shelved back in June, after a gunman opened fire at a congressional baseball practice.
But supporters were able to get the SHARE Act, which expanded gun owners' rights in a variety of ways, back on the legislative schedule for this month until Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) pulled it again after Sunday's shooting.
The NRA has prided itself on a near-perfect record of winning legislative fights, a record that has given the group an aura of invincibility on Capitol Hill.
It became apparent, however, that defeating legislation to ban bump stocks might be an uphill battle.
Already 38 senators have co-sponsored Sen. Dianne Feinstein's (D-Calif.) bill to ban the special stocks and several Republicans, such as Rep. Bill Flores (Texas), the former Republican Study Committee's chairman, have voiced support.
"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 on Wednesday.
"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.
Several House Republican moderates, including Reps. Charlie Dent (Pa.), Ryan Costello (Pa.), Leonard Lance (N.J.) and Pete King (N.Y.), joined Flores on Wednesday in calling for a ban.
The NRA called Flores's chief of staff Thursday to find out more about his position and "offered to be a resource on the matter."
Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) also called for a bump stock ban on Wednesday.
"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."
Johnson said he did not hear from the NRA after making his statement.