Two days into the grief after yet another mass shooting in the United States, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, talked Tuesday about some areas of legislative consensus between Democrats and Republicans on gun issues.
Not on his list: banning or restricting bump stocks, the devices that Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock attached to the firearms he used to kill 58 people on Oct. 1, turning them into virtual machine guns. Cornyn punted on the issue, as many Congressional Republicans have been doing since shortly after the tragedy, the biggest mass shooting in American history.
Immediately following the Vegas shooting, Republicans and Democrats alike seemed open to a possible ban on bump stocks. Even the National Rifle Association said in a statement that bump stocks “should be subject to additional regulations.” Bills were introduced with support from lawmakers in both parties.
The NRA, however, soon made it clear it only supported additional regulations from ATF, not new legislation in Congress; Republican leaders such as Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., soon circulated the same message, and the matter was kicked to the agency.
In a letter sent to Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami, dated Oct. 12, a group of current and former ATF employees explained why the agency was holding back. Curbelo is sponsoring a bill to ban bump stocks; the NRA has come out against it.
Bump stocks essentially convert legal semi-automatic weapons, which require a pull of the trigger to fire each bullet, into guns more like illegal automatic weapons, which fire a spray of bullets when the trigger is held down.
But “The bump slide, and several other similar after-market accessories that increase the rate at which a shooter can pull the trigger, are engineered to avoid regulation under Federal law,” the letter to Curbelo said. “These accessories DO NOT cause the firearm to shoot more than one shot by the single function of a trigger pull. The notion that ATF chose not to regulate an item it had the authority to regulate is false. The law is very clear and it does not currently allow ATF to regulate such accessories.”
Adding to the confusion, Cherie Duvall-Jones, spokeswoman for the ATF, would not specify, in response to questions from McClatchy, whether the ATF believes bump stocks fall under a ban on machine guns, the classification of which, under the law, can include accessories or parts intended to convert a weapon into a machine gun. She also said the current process does not require the firearms industry to submit items for classification before putting them on the market.
Curbelo has questioned why certain Republicans were still trying to pass the issue off to ATF.
“Obviously, among Republicans and especially leadership, the idea of giving ATF the opportunity to issue new regulations has gained a lot of momentum. I think that is a waste of time because ATF has expressed in the past at least twice that they have no authority under existing law to regulate,” Curbelo told McClatchy recently. “So I’m confident that once they go through this exercise and it yields nothing, our legislation will again feature prominently as THE solution to this situation.”
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