Top congressional Republicans, who have for decades resisted any legislative limits on guns, signaled Wednesday that they would be open to banning the firearm accessory that the Las Vegas gunman used to transform his rifles to mimic automatic weapon fire.
For a generation, Republicans in Congress — often joined by conservative Democrats — have bottled up gun legislation, even as mass shootings grew more frequent and the weaponry more deadly.
But in this week’s massacre in Las Vegas, lawmakers in both parties may have found the part of the weapons trade that few could countenance: previously obscure gun conversion kits, called “bump stocks,” that turn semiautomatic weapons into weapons capable of firing in long, deadly bursts.
“I own a lot of guns, and as a hunter and sportsman, I think that’s our right as Americans, but I don’t understand the use of this bump stock,” Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, said. “It seems like it’s an obvious area we ought to explore and see if it’s something Congress needs to act on.”
Cornyn told reporters he had asked Senator Charles E. Grassley, the Iowa Republican who is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to convene a hearing on the bump stock issue and any others that arise out of the Las Vegas investigation.
In the House, Representative Carlos Curbelo, a Florida Republican, said he was drafting bipartisan legislation banning the conversion kits, and Representative Bill Flores, a Texas Republican, called for an outright ban.
“I think they should be banned,” Flores told the newspaper The Hill. “There’s no reason for a typical gun owner to own anything that converts a semiautomatic to something that behaves like an automatic.”
At least a dozen of the 23 firearms recovered in Las Vegas were semiautomatic rifles legally modified with bump fire stocks to fire like automatic weapons.
Bump stocks replace a rifle’s standard stock, which is the part held against the shoulder, freeing the weapon to slide back and forth rapidly, harnessing the energy from the kickback that shooters feel when the weapon fires. The stock bumps back and forth between the shooter’s shoulder and trigger finger, causing the rifle to rapidly fire again and again.
In an often deadlocked Washington, none of the pronouncements guaranteed action. The National Rifle Association, which has poured tens of millions of dollars into Republican campaign coffers, remained mum on the bump stock discussion and could stop it cold.
And Erich Pratt, executive director of another gun rights group, Gun Owners of America, vowed to block any legislation.
But Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, tried to force the issue Wednesday, introducing legislation, backed by about two dozen Democrats, that would ban bump stocks.
The devices were introduced during the past decade by Bump Fire and Slide Fire, both based in Moran, Texas. Bump Fire’s website appeared to be down for much of Wednesday. The company wrote on its Facebook page on Tuesday that its servers had been overwhelmed by “high traffic volume.”
Multiple items on Slide Fire’s site on Wednesday featured the notice, “Due to extreme high demands, we are currently out of stock.”