Nation

US lawmakers back bill to outlaw device that may have helped Vegas gunman spray gunfire

An employee at a Raleigh, N.C., firearms store demonstrates how the legal bump stock device works on a semiautomatic weapon.
Allen Breed/Associated Press/File
An employee at a Raleigh, N.C., firearms store demonstrates how the legal bump stock device works on a semiautomatic weapon.

In the wake of the deadliest mass shooting in American history, a group of Democratic US senators announced Wednesday that they were backing a bill that would close a loophole that allows semiautomatic weapons to be modified so they can fire as rapidly as automatic weapons.

The bill, called the Automatic Gun Fire Prevention Act, was unveiled by Senator Dianne Feinstein of California. Massachusetts Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent, are among the cosponsors, Feinstein’s office said in a statement.

The bill is being introduced after gunman Stephen Paddock, 64, killed at least 58 people by firing rapidly from the windows of a luxury suite at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. Hundreds more were either wounded or trampled as they tried to escape the country concert that Paddock attacked.

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The New York Times reported that 12 of the rifles that Paddock had in his suite were outfitted with bump stocks, devices that can be added to semiautomatic rifles to make them fire as if they were automatic. Automatic rifles are more expensive, harder to get, and more regulated than semiautomatic rifles.

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The devastating effects of automatic weapons fire have been known on the battlefield for more than 100 years. Experts say automatic weaponry has never been used before in an American mass shooting.

“We’ve now witnessed the deadliest mass shooting in US history, which saw nearly 600 people killed or injured. An American concert venue has now become a battlefield. We must stop this now,” Feinstein said.

“Automatic weapons have been illegal for more than 30 years, but there’s a loophole in the law that can be exploited to allow killers to fire at rates of between 400 and 800 rounds per minute. The only reason to fire so many rounds so fast is to kill large numbers of people. No one should be able to easily and cheaply modify legal weapons into what are essentially machine guns,” she said in a statement.

A version of the bill has also been introduced in the House, according to the office of Rhode Island US Representative David N. Cicilline. Nearly 100 lawmakers are cosponsors. None of them are Republicans, a Cicilline spokesman said.

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“No person should possess a device that turns a semiautomatic rifle into the equivalent of a machine gun,” Cicilline said in a statement. “The sole purpose of these devices is to fire as many bullets as possible as quickly as possible. I’m introducing this bill today because we cannot become a country where the carnage in Las Vegas becomes the new normal.”

Any additional gun regulation, no matter how limited, would face an uphill battle in the current political climate. It would have to pass a Republican-dominated House and Senate, and then survive a veto by President Trump.

A telephone message left Wednesday morning at Moran, Texas-based Slide Fire, which offers bump stocks, wasn’t immediately returned.

The company touts on its website that its product “allows shooters to safely and accurately bump fire their rifles without compromising safety and accuracy.” It explains that “bump firing is a well-established capability that uses the recoil of a semi-automatic firearm to fire multiple shots in rapid succession.”

The Slide Fire website includes what appears to be a letter to the company from the US Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco, and Explosives that says the device is simply a “firearm part” and “not regulated under Gun Control Act or the National Firearms Act.”

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A second website, bumpfiresystems.com, was no longer active Wednesday. Earlier this month, it was advertising bump fire stocks that it said were licensed by Slide Fire. A telephone message left at a listing for Bump Fire Systems was not returned.