The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion A year after the Las Vegas shooting, Congress still hasn’t banned bump stocks

Some of the original 58 wooden crosses that were set up as part of a memorial after the Oct. 1, 2017, massacre on the Las Vegas Strip.
Some of the original 58 wooden crosses that were set up as part of a memorial after the Oct. 1, 2017, massacre on the Las Vegas Strip. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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IT HAS been a year since a gunman in a hotel room on the Las Vegas Strip killed 58 people and wounded hundreds more. The mass shooting — the worst in modern U.S. history — brought attention to the bump stocks the shooter used to effectively convert his rifles into automatic weapons, enabling him to spray more than 1,000 rounds in 11 terrible minutes. There was widespread agreement — including from congressional leaders — about the need to ban these devices.

Yet here it is a year later, and bump stocks are still legal and available for sale in most of the country.

President Trump said that is about to change, as his administration is supposedly close to finalizing regulations that would ban bump stocks. “We’re knocking out bump stocks,” he said Monday at a White House news conference. “We’re in the final two or three weeks, and I’ll be able to write out bump stocks.”

Let’s hope he is right, but there was a quicker and likely far more effective means of getting rid of bump stocks that the administration could have pursued. It could have, but did not, back bipartisan legislation introduced in Congress that would bar bump stocks. Congressional action would make the ban immediate and permanent and not subject to future regulation changes. It also would insulate the ban from the civil lawsuits that are almost sure to be brought by bump-stock owners and manufacturers against administrative action.

The refusal of the Republican-controlled Congress to take up a ban after the National Rifle Association made clear it was opposed has caused some states to take matters into their own hands. Eleven have passed laws to restrict bump stocks, including four with Republican governors (Massachusetts, Florida, Maryland and Vermont). Similar bans are being debated in other states.

It is heartening that states are increasingly acting on gun-control issues. Eight states have passed “red flag” laws, 10 have passed laws addressing gun ownership and domestic violence, and a bipartisan group of 20 state attorneys general went to court to block the Trump administration’s decision to allow online distribution of computer code that can be used to produce a gun on a 3-D printer. But state action also serves to highlight the total abdication of Congress, even after so many legislators promised a year ago to take at least some action. That failure and cowardice are something voters should keep in mind when they go to the polls next month.

Henry Olsen

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