Several House Republicans agreed Wednesday that something should be done about public access to bump stock devices following the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas, but their positions diverged on what exactly to do and who should do it.
Police say gunman Stephen Paddock had bump stocks on many of the guns in his hotel room when he committed the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history on October 1. The devices enable a semiautomatic rifle to fire more rapidly like an automatic.
Automatic weapons are heavily restricted under current law, but the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives determined in 2010 that bump stocks did not meet the legal definition of a firearm and therefore did not fall under the agency’s regulatory power.
Democrats and some Republicans have called for bump stocks to be banned by Congress in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, but the National Rifle Association and Republican leaders have suggested the ATF should find a way to regulate them instead.
“We think the regulatory fix is the smartest, quickest fix, and I’d frankly like to know how it happened in the first place,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said at a news conference Wednesday.
Some Republicans argued against pursuing more laws and regulations in response to the violence.
“I support the Second Amendment,” Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.V., said. “I don’t think any more gun control laws are going to affect criminals. They ignore the laws anyway.”
Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, suggested some blame rests on President Barack Obama for the 2010 ATF decision.
“The Obama administration had regulatorily approved the sale of this item. Clearly that was a mistake,” he said.
“I’m not opposed at all to taking a look at the bump stock,” said Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., who also pointed a finger at the Obama administration for allowing them to be sold.
Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., lamented how both sides rapidly retreat to talking points in the gun debate. While he believes no regulation could have prevented the Las Vegas shooting, he also feels it is common sense to restrict access to bump stocks.
“It makes sense to me to regulate that in the same way you regulate an automatic weapon,” he said.
According to Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., the whole bump stock debate is premature. The public still does not know exactly what weapons Paddock had or whether his bump stocks were even effective.
Massie accused Democrats of using the shooting to push unrelated gun control legislation, but he also questioned Speaker Ryan’s position that the ATF should change its interpretation of existing law to address bump stocks.
“I don’t think the ATF or any executive branch should be writing laws or rewriting laws,” he said. If any action is taken, he would prefer it come from Congress.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., said he would like to see what ATF comes up with to prevent misuse of bump stocks and he would not prejudge legislation, but he wants to wait for more information.
“It might be a little bit hasty to suggest within ten days or a week we have some fully cooked legislation that may have unintended consequences,” he said.
Others insisted addressing mental health is the more effective way to prevent mass shootings, if they can be prevented at all.
“Let’s be honest. You’re never going to be able to regulate crazy and stupidity out,” said Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla. “You just can’t. You can’t understand what’s going through someone’s mind. If they’ve got a will, they’re going to find a way to do it, be it a vehicle or some other device. What we need to do is really dig in and try to understand mental health the best we can.”
Although Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, also placed emphasis on the mental health component, he signaled openness to regulating or restricting bump stocks.
“I think it’s legitimate that we look at that…. We want to make sure that we minimize the chance that something like this will happen again,” he said.
Rep. Rodney Davis, who was at bat when a gunman opened fire on a congressional baseball practice in June, suggested the discussion needs to move beyond either side’s political agenda and address the full spectrum of issues.
“When the focus is only on one part of solving the problem, we're not going to get to the root cause of what is really causing these mass shootings,” he said.