October 5, 2017 - 2:25 pm
Updated October 5, 2017 - 7:25 pm
WASHINGTON — Sunday’s mass shooting in Las Vegas may have pierced the gun lobby’s no-exceptions resistance to compromise.
The National Rifle Association announced Thursday its support for tougher regulation of bump stocks, devices designed to increase the firepower of semi-automatic rifles that authorities found on a dozen of the firearms found in shooter Stephen Paddock’s Mandalay Bay hotel suite.
“The NRA believes that devices to allow semi-automatic rifles to function likely fully automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations,” read a statement from the NRA’s executive vice president and chief executive, Wayne LaPierre, and Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action. The statement also faulted the Obama administration for effectively exempting the devices from federal gun laws.
The NRA’s new flexibility mirrors a change in tone from GOP leaders. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said on MSNBC that “Fully automatic weapons have been banned for a long time. Apparently this (a bump stock) allows you to take a semi-automatic, turn it into a fully-automatic, so clearly that’s something that we need to look into.”
And, at Thursday’s White House press briefing, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said the administration is “very open” to bump-stock regulation.
The NRA’s announcement came a day after legislation to ban the devices was introduced by Senate and House Democrats. Both measures had long lists of Democratic co-sponsors. All four Nevada Democrats in Washington – Sen. Catherine Cortez-Masto, Rep. Dina Titus, Rep. Ruben Kihuen and Jacky Rosen – support bump stock bans.
NRA changes the landscape
Three days ago, the vast majority of Republicans would be expected to oppose the Democrats’ measures. The NRA’s shift changes the landscape.
“Right now the Republicans are recognizing this event has the potential to change the terms of the debate just a little bit. There might be some momentum for some regulation,” observed UNLV political science professor John Tuman.
Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., said Thursday he plans to introduce a bipartisan bump-stock-ban bill Friday with co-sponsor Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass.
“By banning devices that blatantly circumvent already existing law, we can show that Congress is capable of working constructively to make Americans safer,” Curbelo said in a statement. To punctuate that point a “Noah’s Ark” provision requires co-sponsors to sign on with a another member of the other party.
Nevada’s two Republicans in Washington – Sen. Dean Heller and Rep. Mark Amodei – seem wary of the bans, but they have kept their options open.
When asked Thursday if he would support such a measure, Amodei told Fox News, “Show me the bill and I’ll tell you.” He said he wanted to know more about other devices covered in the Democrats’ bill.
“I’m not interested in watering down the Second Amendment,” Heller told Fox News.
In a statement sent to the Review-Journal, Heller said, “As I expressed earlier in the week, the use of the so-called ‘bump stock’ needs to be explored. Yesterday, I spoke to the president about reevaluating and reviewing the Obama administration ruling that allows the use of the device on a semi-automatic weapon.”
Potential election issue
If Republicans don’t change bump stock rules, Tuman sees an issue that can be used against Heller in next year’s election. Heller could vote for a narrow measure and “credibly claim that’s consistent with his support for the Second Amendment,” Tuman said.
Democrats aren’t the only Nevadans who would welcome more restrictions.
“My personal belief is that getting rid of automatic rifles that shoot 55o rounds a minute is not gun control,” said Sig Rogich, a former adviser to President George H.W. Bush. “I don’t think that’s what the Second Amendment is all about.”
The Gun Owners of America did not follow the NRA’s move. In a statement that called the NRA proposal “gun control,” Executive Director Erich Pratt argued, “Any type of ban will be ignored by criminals and only serve to disarm honest citizens.”
Shortly after the Sunday night mass shooting, UCLA constitutional law professor Adam Winkler predicted that Washington would not change gun laws. But by Thursday, he was not so sure.
“If I were a betting man, I might still bet against any new federal laws. But given the unexpected willingness of Republicans to consider gun control, we may indeed see some reform,” he said.
In April, President Donald Trump assured NRA members “I will never, ever infringe on the right of the people to keep and bear arms. Never ever.”
At Thursday’s press briefing, Sanders maintained that the president remains a Second Amendment supporter. She said the administration would welcome a conversation on bump-stock regulation, but added, “I think we all need to take a step back. We had one of the most horrific tragedies that’s ever taken place on U.S. soil.”
Trump’s focus, she said, is on “healing and uniting the country.”