WASHINGTON — The National Rifle Association announced its support Thursday for regulating ‘‘bump stocks,’’ devices that can effectively convert semi-automatic rifles into fully automated weapons and that were apparently used in the Las Vegas massacre to lethal effect. It was a surprising shift for the leading gun industry group, which in recent years has resolutely opposed any gun regulations. Immediately afterward the White House, too, said it was open to such a change.
The NRA announcement followed comments from leading congressional Republicans including House Speaker Paul Ryan that Congress should take a look at the devices, which were little-known even to gun enthusiasts prior to Sunday’s bloodbath. A gunman pumped bullets from a casino high-rise into a crowd of concertgoers below, killing 59 and wounding hundreds, apparently using legal ‘‘bump stocks’’ to increase firing speed from his semi-automatic weapons.
‘‘The National Rifle Association is calling on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) to immediately review whether these devices comply with federal law,’’ the NRA said in a statement. ‘‘The NRA believes that devices designed to allow semi-automatic rifles to function like fully-automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations.’’
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in response, ‘‘We welcome that and a conversation on that. ... It’s something we’re very open to. It’s something we want to be part of the conversation on going forward.’’
President Donald Trump had discussed the issue with lawmakers on the way back from visiting Las Vegas on Wednesday, according to Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nevada, who traveled with the president aboard Air Force One.
‘‘Bump stocks’’ originally were intended to help people with limited hand mobility fire a semi-automatic without the individual trigger pulls required. They can fit over the rear shoulder-stock assembly on a semi-automatic rifle and with applied pressure cause the weapon to fire continuously, increasing the rate from between 45 and 60 rounds per minute to between 400 and 800 rounds per minute, according to the office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who introduced legislation this week to ban them.
The government gave its seal of approval to selling the devices in 2010 after concluding that they did not violate federal law.
The endorsement from the NRA and congressional Republicans for a change in law or policy to regulate guns, however narrow, marked a shift. Inaction has been the norm following other mass shootings, including the Sandy Hook, Connecticut, massacre of schoolchildren five years ago, last year’s bloodbath at the Pulse nightclub in Florida, and a baseball field shooting this year in which House Majority Whip Steve Scalise came close to death.
The NRA’s framing of the issue echos an argument made Thursday morning by White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, that the deregulation of bump stocks had been an Obama administration blunder.
‘‘It was President Obama’s ATF, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, in 2010 that decided not to regulate this device,’’ she told CNN’s Chris Cuomo. ‘‘That should be part of the conversation and part of the facts that you put before your viewers.’’
The Obama administration’s role in the deregulation was previously reported by The Washington Post; on Wednesday, Obama-era ATFE official Rick Vasquez, who approved the devices, said that they were intended ‘‘for those guys who want to look like super ninja when they’re out on the range.’’ At the time, the Obama administration did not believe they contravened federal regulations against machine guns, as they did not modify the machinery of guns themselves.
But in the wake of the Las Vegas massacre, Washington seemed increasingly ready to dump ‘‘bump stocks.’’ In another part of its statement, the NRA emphasized that it was still working toward the pro-gun priorities it had been trying to advance this year.
‘‘On behalf of our five million members across the country, we urge Congress to pass National Right-to-Carry reciprocity, which will allow law-abiding Americans to defend themselves and their families from acts of violence,’’ said LaPierre and Cox.
The following is the full statement from the NRA:
“In the aftermath of the evil and senseless attack in Las Vegas, the American people are looking for answers as to how future tragedies can be prevented. Unfortunately, the first response from some politicians has been to call for more gun control. Banning guns from law-abiding Americans based on the criminal act of a madman will do nothing to prevent future attacks. This is a fact that has been proven time and again in countries across the world. In Las Vegas, reports indicate that certain devices were used to modify the firearms involved. 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 (BATFE) to immediately review whether these devices comply with federal law. The NRA believes that devices designed to allow semi-automatic rifles to function like fully-automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations. In an increasingly dangerous world, the NRA remains focused on our mission: strengthening Americans’ Second Amendment freedom to defend themselves, their families and their communities. To that end, on behalf of our five million members across the country, we urge Congress to pass National Right-to-Carry reciprocity, which will allow law-abiding Americans to defend themselves and their families from acts of violence.”
This story will be updated.Material from the Washington Post was used in this report.