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  • FILE - In this Feb. 1, 2013, file photo, an employee of North Raleigh Guns demonstrates how a "bump" stock works at the Raleigh, N.C., shop. The gunman who unleashed hundreds of rounds of gunfire on a crowd of concertgoers in Las Vegas on Monday, Oct. 2, 2017, attached what is called a "bump-stock" to two of his weapons, in effect converting semiautomatic firearms into fully automatic ones. (AP Photo/Allen Breed, File)

Friday, October 06, 2017 1:00 am

Editorial

Stock answer

Sentiment builds to ban gun-modifying device

To learn more

A New York Times graphic shows how much faster a semi-automatic rifle can be fired with a bump stock. Go to www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/10/04/us/bump-stock-las-vegas-gun.html

When mass shootings occur, lawmakers who would do almost anything to avoid the wrath of the gun lobby deny that anything they might do could make a difference. In a newer dodge, they suggest it is in bad taste even to discuss possible solutions until public shock at the latest killing has faded.

But the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history this week has revealed a hole in firearms-related law egregious enough to transcend the usual political stonewalling.

Congress, which has failed to enact even the mildest gun limitations in recent years, may be preparing to limit or ban the sale of bump stocks. Bump stocks are fiendishly simple attachments, legal under federal law and in most states, including Indiana, that allowed Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock to fire so rapidly on a crowd of music fans Sunday night.

Thursday, two members of Indiana's congressional delegation indicated their willingness to consider such legislation.

“This is a critical and timely issue,” Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly said in an emailed statement. “I am very concerned about bump stocks, and I am closely reviewing recently proposed legislation.”

Anna Swick, press secretary for U.S. Rep. Jim Banks, R-3rd, emailed that it is too early to know what bills addressing bump stocks will look like, but “(t)he congressman looks forward to evaluating and hearing debate on legislative proposals but will not support legislation that infringes on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners.”

Only a few states regulate bump stocks and other “trigger actuation” devices, including California, New York and Minnesota, according to Ari Freilich, staff attorney at the Law Center to Report Gun Violence, a nonpartisan organization that advocates for reasonable gun restrictions.

Indiana Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, a member of the interim committee studying a proposal to allow citizens to carry handguns without permits, said Thursday it probably won't be possible for that group to discuss bump stocks in what may be its final session next week. But “I'm sure this will be a topic of discussion in the coming session,” GiaQuinta said.

The death toll Sunday night would have been horrendous in any case, given the shooter's position high above thousands of outdoor concertgoers. But the bump stocks Paddock was using likely increased casualties by allowing him to fire his semi-automatic rifles almost as fast as machine guns.

An analysis of audio recordings by the New York Times Thursday indicated Paddock fired 90 shots in one 10-second span. The shooter in the Orlando nightclub massacre in 2016, who used a similar semi-automatic rifle without a bump stock, fired 24 shots in nine seconds. A fully automatic machine gun, the Times said, can fire 98 shots in seven seconds.

“The federal government has pretty strictly regulated machine guns since 1986,” Freilich explained in an interview Tuesday. “They have to be registered with ATF (the U.S. Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives). A thorough background check is required for anyone who wants to own one. Traditionally, local law enforcement has to certify, as well, that the person is not a danger.

“Under federal law, a machine gun is defined as a weapon that shoots multiple bullets automatically with a single pull of a trigger,” he added. But bump stocks and other trigger actuators have successfully skirted that distinction.

“The bump stock uses the movement of the firearm, the recoil, to essentially balance the gun back and forth between your shoulder and your finger,” Freilich said. “So it actually does technically pull the trigger multiple times, even though the person really doesn't have to do anything. They just hold their shoulder and finger in place on the gun, that bumps back and forth and continues to fire. ... Because it doesn't hinge on a single pull of the trigger, like the traditional machine gun, to spray multiple bullets at once, ATF has determined ... that the bump stock did not make a gun into a machine gun and so they're therefore lawful to sell under federal law.”

Leave the debates on universal background checks, semi-automatic rifles and all the rest for another day. Bump stocks and similar devices aren't necessary for self-defense, hunting or target shooting. But as the nation learned Sunday, they can be a very effective aid for a mass killer.

Our representatives in Washington and Indianapolis should join the effort to ban them as soon as possible.