Judicial

Sen. Feinstein: Congressional action needed to fix ‘bump stock’ gun loophole

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In the wake of the deadliest mass shooting in our country’s history, the National Rifle Association said it was open to regulating bump-fire stocks, devices that allow semi-automatic weapons to reach automatic rates of fire of between 400 and 800 rounds per minute.

The Las Vegas shooter outfitted 12 semi-automatic weapons with these accessories, allowing him to spray many hundreds of bullets at concertgoers in just nine minutes.

{mosads}When the NRA seemed willing to acknowledge possession of these lethal devices should be restricted, many wondered whether the gun lobby was finally softening its stance against commonsense gun safety laws.

Unfortunately, it appears this was just a tactic to delay taking any action at all.

A week after its initial statement, when the news was no longer dominated by the stories of the 58 people killed in Las Vegas, the NRA showed its true colors and announced its opposition to bills introduced in the Senate and House to ban bump-fire stocks.

The NRA’s categorical opposition followed the gun lobby’s finely-tuned playbook: express openness to change, then work to kill any momentum for change as the victims’ faces fade from media coverage.

Republicans who support a commonsense ban on bump-fire stocks must not allow the NRA’s intransigence to dissuade them from moving forward on this small but necessary fix to our nation’s gun laws.

Let’s review how we got here.

There’s a long history of laws to ensure civilians don’t have automatic weapons. That’s because there is widespread recognition that the only purpose of automatic weapons is to kill as many people as possible, in as short a time as possible.

Strict laws were put in place after the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929 when Thompson sub machine guns were used to kill seven gangsters in Chicago.

In 1986, Congress passed the Firearms Owners Protection Act. The bill loosened some restrictions on weapons identified in the 1968 Gun Control Act, but also imposed a new ban on the possession and sale of automatic weapons.

Even while easing restrictions on most guns, allowing interstate sales of long guns and removing requirements to record ammunition sales, Congress agreed that civilians should not have automatic weapons.

The 1986 law defined automatic weapons by their ability to automatically fire a continuous number of rounds by holding down the trigger. Unfortunately, new technology has made this definition largely obsolete, creating a giant loophole in a law.

Accessories like bump fire stocks now allow semi-automatic weapons to achieve a fully-automatic rate of fire without needing to hold down the trigger. Due to this technicality, these devices do not run afoul of the law.

To avoid changing the law to fix this loophole, some Republicans and the NRA have called for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to reclassify bump-fire stocks in order to subject them strict regulations.

But the ATF made clear in a 2010 letter to a leading weapons manufacturer and again in a 2013 letter to Congress that it lacks the authority to regulate bump fire stocks under the Gun Control Act or National Firearms Act.

The agency detailed that bump-fire stocks are legally not considered machine gun conversion devices and “are not subject to the provisions of federal firearms statutes.”

The ATF Association, an organization comprised of current and former ATF employees, has denounced attempts to blame the agency for not banning bump-fire stocks, writing to Congress that the accessories are “engineered to avoid regulation under federal law.”

Since expressing its opposition, the NRA has suggested our narrow bill is overly broad in scope and blurs the line between semi-automatic and automatic weapons.

This is false.

Again, the legal definition of an automatic weapon relies on the fact that the operator must only press the trigger once to fire continuous rounds. Our bill specifically bans bump-fire stocks and dangerous trigger cranks, but it does not ban other accessories like competition triggers or custom stocks.

Only devices that mechanically increase the rate of fire would be affected.

Even if the ATF were able to regulate bump-fire stocks, federal regulations would not be enough. The Las Vegas shooter passed background checks and legally purchased his weapons. That means merely regulating bump stocks wouldn’t have necessarily prevented the gunman from outfitting his weapons as he did.

While it’s true that the Las Vegas shooter would still have been able to buy dozens of assault weapons even if a ban on bump-fire stocks had been in place, he would not have been able to fire the same number of rounds in just nine minutes.

An audio analysis showed that the gunman fired nine rounds per second—540 rounds per minute. He simply wouldn’t have been able to achieve the same fire power without bump-fire stocks.

Our legislation would make crystal clear that going forward Congress is banning all devices that allow a weapon to achieve an automatic rate of fire, regardless of how a weapon is altered.

Such legislation can and will save lives, and Congress should act as soon as possible. It’s been just two weeks since 58 concert goers were gunned down. We owe it to them to not just move on.

Feinstein is ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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