Democracy Dies in Darkness

The Fix | Analysis

The NRA's game-changing decision to disarm on bump stocks

By Aaron Blake

October 5, 2017 at 3:17 PM

Donald Trump attends the National Rifle Association's NRA-ILA Leadership Forum in May 2016. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

The National Rifle Association just made a major announcement in the debate over new gun laws, signing off on additional regulation of the “bump stocks” used in the massacre in Las Vegas this weekend. While the NRA might have been able to stop bump stocks legislation, its thumbs-up certainly increases the odds of passing something and gives Republicans greater berth to consider it.

But the NRA would also like to emphasize two things:

  1. This is not “gun control.”
  2. It's former president Barack Obama's fault.

Let's take the just-released statement from NRA leaders Wayne LaPierre and Chris Cox piece-by-piece:

“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.”

This is a signal that the NRA does not consider reining in bump stocks to be “gun control.” Why would that be? Because they have been saying for years that basically any new gun regulations are a slippery slope toward the confiscation of guns. They may be conceding on this debate, to some degree, but they don't want this to be defined as Congress passing new “gun control.” They don't want this to be chalked up as a loss for their overall cause.

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Police found 12 weapons with bump-fire stocks in the shooter’s hotel room. These devices can be used to make semi-automatic weapons perform like machine guns. (Patrick Martin/The Washington Post)

“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.”

Expect to hear plenty of this talking point: that this was something the Obama administration allowed. The NRA is basically saying that it had nothing to do with these modifications in the first place, and it's actually Obama's fault. But the BATFE — more commonly known as ATF — actually decided that it couldn't regulate bump stocks because they were firearm parts and not firearms themselves.

“The NRA believes that devices designed to allow semiautomatic 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 5 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.”

That first sentence is the big one, giving the bump stocks debate the NRA's seal of approval — and even saying clearly that there should be “additional regulations.” This makes the passage of legislation significantly more likely, because the NRA holds significant sway. Even as recently as Wednesday, we saw some Republicans wade into the bump stock debate but only very tentatively.

But even in signing off on the change reining in the use of a gun part, though, the NRA makes sure to argue that other pro-gun measures could help prevent tragedies.

In the end, this seems to be the NRA bowing to reality and trying to put the best possible spin on it.

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Oct. 5 that the White House's openness to discussing a ban on "bump stocks," a device which allows semiautomatic weapons to fire like automatic ones, "hasn't changed" since the NRA's endorsement of the proposal. (Reuters)

Aaron Blake is senior political reporter for The Fix.

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