Feinstein’s bump stocks ban moves back into the spotlight

Shooting instructor Frankie McRae aims an AR-15 rifle fitted with a "bump stock" at his 37 PSR Gun Club in Bunnlevel, N.C., on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017. The stock uses the recoil of the semiautomatic rifle to let the finger "bump" the trigger, making it different from a fully automatic machine gun, which are illegal for most civilians to own.
Shooting instructor Frankie McRae aims an AR-15 rifle fitted with a "bump stock" at his 37 PSR Gun Club in Bunnlevel, N.C., on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017. The stock uses the recoil of the semiautomatic rifle to let the finger "bump" the trigger, making it different from a fully automatic machine gun, which are illegal for most civilians to own. AP

A week ahead of a long awaited Senate hearing on bump stocks, the district attorney from Las Vegas issued a powerful call to ban the firearm accessory, which enabled a gunman to kill 58 people in just minutes at an Oct. 1 concert along the city’s famed Strip.

The renewed spotlight on the issue provides some much needed momentum for California Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s legislation to ban the device, which has languished in the Senate as Washington’s attention drifted on to other matters.

Two events are now reigniting the debate over whether Congress ought to act on bump stocks. The Senate Judiciary Committee is slated to hold a hearing Dec. 6 on the regulation of firearm accessories like bump stocks as well as issues with the federal background checks database that gun dealers use to determine whether someone is allowed to purchase a gun. A second mass shooting this fall, at a church in Sunderland Springs, Texas, highlighted gaps in that system.

And on Wednesday, Republicans House Judiciary Committee advanced legislation to expand Americans’ ability to carry concealed weapons, over the noisy objections of House Democrats and other gun control advocates. The Committee also passed a bipartisan bill to update the federal background checks database.

Clark County, Nevada District Attorney Steve Wolfson appeared with Feinstein and dozens of law enforcement officials at a press conference on Capitol Hill Wednesday morning to protest House Republicans’ decision to move forward with the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act. The bill would allow people with a concealed carry permit in one state to carry a concealed weapon when they travel to other states, regardless of the local laws there.

Wolfson, who has said little publicly on the Las Vegas shooting or the role of bump stocks in the carnage since shortly after it occurred, focused his remarks on banning the device. “59 days ago, I had never heard of the term bump stock,” he said. “But then 58 days ago … 58 innocent people were slaughtered in less than 10 minutes.”

The deadly Las Vegas shooting brought to light the use of a device called a "bump stock,” which allows a semi-automatic rifle to mimic a fully automatic ones. Critics say that the device disregards current federal restrictions on automatic guns, b

Bump stocks, which allow a gun owner to turn a semi-automatic weapon into an illegal automatic one, “should be wiped off the face of the earth,” said Wolfson, who commended Feinstein for pushing the ban. He called on congressional leaders to quickly follow her lead. “Doing nothing is unacceptable,” he said.

That’s exactly what Republicans are doing, House Democrats accuse. They turned the House Judiciary Committee’s deliberations on concealed carry permits into a platform to air their grievances on Congress’ refusal to limit gun access, even amidst some of the most lethal mass shootings in U.S. history. The mark-up lasted into the evening as Democrats forced votes on dozens of amendments to weaken the legislation and advance other gun safety measures.

When it comes to gun violence, “no one’s ever come into my office and said, ‘you know what we need, we need Congress to step up right now and make sure you can carry a concealed weapon in every state in this country,’” Florida Rep. Ted Deutch observed during the committee’s consideration of the bill. “Why this would be the first response, the only response that we’ve seen, the only legislative effort at all that we’ve taken up that addresses guns?”

Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia responded that thousands of his constituents believe “they’ll be safer and they can keep other people safer if they can use [their concealed carry permit] when they travel.” Goodlatte also cited remarks from Detroit, Mich. Police Chief James Craig that “good Americans with concealed permit licenses translates into crime reduction.”

Law enforcement officials from California and other states were emphatic, however, that allowing people from other states to carry concealed weapons in their cities would have the opposite effect.

“We in law enforcement are convinced that this will only lead to more gun violence in our communities” because it would allow gun owners to follow lower standards for carrying concealed weapons, Washington, D.C. Chief of Police Peter Newsham said at the press conference, which was organized by Prosecutors Against Gun Violence.

City Attorney of Los Angeles Mike Feuer, the group’s co-chair, said he and his fellow prosecutors organized the event because “we think it’s imperative that our voice, the credible voice of law enforcement, joining with police and sheriffs across the United States, needs to be heard on gun violence right now.” The district attorneys from Los Angeles County, Santa Barbara County and Santa Clara County also appeared at the press conference.

Next week’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on bump stocks, which was postponed from Nov. 14, is also expected to feature a witness from law enforcement, as well as a representative from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). The National Rifle Association and leading Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan have suggested that ATF, not Congress, has the responsibility to regulate bump stocks. Feinstein and other supporters of her legislation dispute that.

“The ATF has concluded that it lacks the authority to ban bump-stocks,” Feinstein said at Wednesday’s press conference. The 1986 law outlawing automatic weapons defines those weapons on how the gun’s trigger functions, the Democratic senator pointed out, “and bump-stocks don’t alter the trigger.”

If the ATF representative echoes that position at next week’s hearing, it will give more fuel to Democrats -- and some House Republicans -- who are calling for Congress to act. “I’m hopeful that hearing will show my Republican colleagues that legislation to ban bump stocks is the way forward,” said Feinstein.

Emily Cadei: 202-383-6153, @emilycadei