It says a lot about the partisan gridlock in Washington that even after a man armed with more than a dozen rifles smashed a hotel window and rained bullets on hundreds of people attending a country music festival in Las Vegas, most Americans assumed Congress would keep doing exactly nothing to prevent another mass shooting.
Congress has earned that cynicism.
In 2012, Republican legislators sabotaged a bipartisan bill that would’ve expanded background checks after Adam Lanza burst into Sandy Hook Elementary School and fatally shot 20 innocent children, and six educators.
In 2016, Republicans blocked Democrat-backed legislation that would’ve stopped anyone on a terrorism watch list from buying a gun after Omar Mateen shot more than 100 people at Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
Congress has a shameful history of inaction and feigned helplessness on gun violence. But after the bloodshed in Las Vegas, shocking even in this era of domestic terrorism and mass shootings, it appears the political winds have shifted – even if only a little.
The National Rifle Association did an about-face Thursday from its normal worship of unfettered destructive power – a devotion apparently aimed at turning every American household into an armed encampment – and announced support for banning the sale of “bump stocks” conversion kits.
The idea was first proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, but considering the national mood it was the only politically viable thing the NRA could do. As Sen. John McCain told the Washington Post, “Americans are horrified by it. They’re horrified, and they should be.”
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, incredibly, has said bump stocks don’t violate laws restricting ownership of fully automatic machine guns. Feinstein’s legislation would close that egregious loophole, banning the conversion kits nationally.
Stephen Paddock, the 64-year-old retiree who killed 58 people and wounded 489 from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel Sunday, had added bump stocks to a dozen rifles. They enabled him to fire hundreds of rounds per minute into the crowd below, inflicting far more damage than would have been possible with more conventional rifles.
Once the NRA signaled the all-clear, more Republicans climbed on board. Though it endorsed “additional regulations” for bump stocks, the NRA also reiterated its push for so-called reciprocity legislation, requiring all states – no matter how strict their gun laws – to honor concealed-carry permits issued by other states, no matter how lax their laws.
These issues are not linked and shouldn’t be. The right has bemoaned any attempt to politicize the Las Vegas massacre, but that’s exactly what the NRA is doing in this case.
The Trump administration, as well as several other congressional Republicans have said they are open to a ban on bump stocks. Among them, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who told The New York Times: “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.”
We’re hopeful all of this talk will amount to action. But it never should’ve taken 547 innocent people getting shot or trampled to convince Republicans and the NRA to consider a truly modest and sensible gun-control policy. Twenty schoolchildren should’ve been enough.
Far better would be for Congress to follow California’s lead, and ban assault-style rifles and large-capacity magazines like those Paddock brought into Mandalay Bay. But if Congress can follow through and ban these bump stocks, we’ll take what we can get.