In this occasional series, we will bring you up to speed on the biggest national security stories of the week.
Bump stocks became a part of the national conversation this week after the deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history. Stephen Paddock, a 64-year-old serial gambler, smashed the windows out of his hotel room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas and fired at a music festival crowd below, leaving 58 people dead and hundreds injured. Paddock killed himself before police could reach him.
Audio of the gunfire initially suggested the sound of an automatic weapon. In the days that followed, law enforcement officials said that at least a dozen firearms Paddock had with him were modified to fire like automatic weapons. The equipment to alter a semiautomatic weapon and have it fire like an automatic weapon is known as a bump stock.
How does it work?
A bump stock is a piece of plastic or metal molded to the lower end of a rifle. The device allows a shooter to fire dozens of rounds in seconds by harnessing the gun’s natural recoil. A rifle with this type of mechanism is optimal with a high-capacity magazine that can hold between 60 and 100 rounds and a hand grip that allows a shooter to push the rifle away from the body to bounce, or bump, the weapon into the trigger finger.
When these are combined, the weapon can shoot large amounts of automatic-like fire without much concern for accuracy, as the recoil from simulated automatic fire would make it difficult to hit specific targets at a long range. There are a variety of videos online that demonstrate the mechanics behind the modifications.
Are they legal?
Yes. Bump stocks have been around since 2001, and the government does not regulate them. That’s because the modifications do not include alterations to the weapon’s mechanical components.
Slide Fire, one of the companies that first began selling the device, said Wednesday that the device was out of stock “due to extreme high demand.”
How do bump stocks play into the gun control debate?
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a fierce advocate for gun control, introduced legislation Wednesday that would ban the import, sale, manufacturing, transfer and possession of bump stocks and similar inventions.
“The only reason to modify a gun is to kill as many people as possible in as short a time as possible,” Feinstein said.
At first, the National Rifle Association remained silent. But on Thursday, the organization made the surprise announcement that it would support regulation of the device — as did the White House.
“We welcome that and a conversation on that. … It’s something we’re very open to. It’s something we want to be part of the conversation on going forward,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.
Republican lawmakers in Congress also backed legislation to ban bump stocks.
“I didn’t know what a bump stock was until this week,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said. “A lot of us are coming up to speed. … Having said that, fully automatic weapons have been outlawed for many, many years. This seems to be a way of going around that, so obviously we need to look how we can tighten up the compliance with this law so that fully automatic weapons are banned.”