WASHINGTON, D.C.: US lawmakers bolstered efforts Thursday to ban the devices that the Las Vegas shooter used to convert his rifles into rapid-fire killing machines, and Congress may have found a surprising ally — the National Rifle Association.
The powerful pro-gun lobby group broke from its traditional outright opposition to any gun control efforts and NRA leaders Wayne LaPierre and Chris Cox called on US authorities to review the laws surrounding so-called “bump stocks.”
“The NRA believes that devices designed to allow semi-automatic rifles to function like fully-automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations,” they said.
The statement is as a notable concession by the NRA, which has vehemently opposed any efforts to tighten gun laws or limit gun owners options to modify their weapons, and it could open the door to a broader debate about bump stocks.
As police search for more clues into what drove Stephen Paddock to murder 58 people and injure nearly 500 at a country music concert, the White House also announced it was “open” to congressional debate about the devices.
The spring-loaded mechanism uses the recoil of the rifle to repeatedly and rapidly pull the trigger, allowing the user to fire several hundred rounds per minute.
“Members of both parties and multiple organizations are planning to take a look at bump stocks,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters.
“We welcome that and would like to be part of that conversation.”
Momentum in Congress
As Congress appeared prepared to at least consider moving forward on the first limits on guns in years, the NRA and White House announcements give cover to Republican lawmakers, many of whom receive NRA funding, to back current legislation that would ban the sale or possession of such devices.
“Clearly this is something we need to look into,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, the top Republican in Congress, told radio host Hugh Hewitt.
“People are just coming up to speed with just what these things are.”
Democrats in both the House and Senate have introduced bills banning bump stocks and similar devices, like trigger cranks, that can accelerate the firing rate of a semi-automatic weapon to nearly that of a machine gun.
Senator Diane Feinstein, whose assault weapons ban was defeated in 2013, four months after the Newtown shooting where 20 elementary school children were shot dead, said she hoped now was the time Republicans could support her measure to curtail the use of bump stocks.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said he was open to hearings on bump stocks, whose use “defies the spirit of the law against automatic weapons.”
But not all Republicans were on board. “I don’t think this is about bump stocks,” Senator John Kennedy said.
“I think this is about chipping away at the Second Amendment,” he said, referring to the clause in the US Constitution which guarantees citizens the right to bear arms.
President Donald Trump, who declared the United States a nation in mourning, spent much of Wednesday in Las Vegas, comforting survivors and eulogizing parents and spouses who “used their own bodies to protect their loved ones” from the onslaught.
Authorities meanwhile were studying the relationship between Paddock, who had no criminal record, and his girlfriend Marilou Danley, whom FBI agents questioned for clues to what drove Paddock to mass murder.
The 62-year-old returned to the United States from her native Philippines late Tuesday and was met by FBI agents.
In a statement read by her attorney Matthew Lombard, she said she had no hint of what was to come: “I knew Stephen Paddock as a kind, caring, quiet man.”
“He never said anything to me or took any action that I was aware of that I understood in any way to be a warning that something horrible like this was going to happen,” she added.
Authorities have been at a loss as to why the 64-year-old gambler and retired accountant hauled a vast arsenal of weapons to his hotel room and launched his assault.
Las Vegas Sheriff Joseph Lombardo said the scale of the preparations — including weapons, ammunition and electronics he stockpiled — raise questions about Paddock potentially having had an accomplice, but none has been identified.
“We’re determined to find out if there was,” Lombardo told reporters late Wednesday, adding that he believed Paddock was seeking a way out after his murder spree.
“He was doing everything possible to see how he could escape at this point,” Lombardo said.
The attack unfolded in just 10 minutes from the first shot to the last, but Paddock was not confirmed dead for more than an hour after that.
When a SWAT team stormed the room where Paddock had been staying since September 28, they found he had killed himself.
Authorities have seized 47 firearms from three locations. Several of the rifles found in his hotel room were modified with bump stocks.
Gun sellers in Las Vegas have spoken out about the ghastly shooting, but have voiced opposition to changing America’s gun laws.
“It’s an act of a coward, an act of a madman,” Art Netherton, manager of Briarhawk Firearms and Ammunition, told Agence France-Presse. But he said the call to restrict guns was a “knee-jerk reaction” by Democratic lawmakers. AFP