A reality based independent journal of observation & analysis, serving the Flathead Valley & Montana since 2006. © James Conner.

7 October 2017 — 1630 mdt

How the NRA plans to keep bump stocks legal

Contrary to some reports, the National Rifle Association does not support legislation banning bump stocks, the rapid fire device that Las Vegas murderer Stephen Paddock fitted to his civilian assault weapons to increase their rate of fire to automatic military assault rifle levels.

Instead, the NRA is calling for a regulatory review of the 2010 rule allowing bump stocks. That would slow down the debate over bump stocks, relegate it to a highly technical rule making process — and give members of Congress an excuse to defer voting on bump stock banning legislation while the review crawled on at a pace making a near comatose snail seem like an Olympic sprinter.

Congress will, of course, hold hearings on bump stocks and like devices. Public opinion demands it. But the hearings will be dog and pony shows. The NRA will testify that a regulatory re-examination should precede legislation. Various “experts” will testify that bump stocks will make citizens more secure in their homes by making burglars fearful of being blown away by a father wielding a bump stock fitted AR-15. Other “experts” will testify that when the government controls guns, criminals will control the people. All of the old canards will be entered into the record, along with some new ones. A few thoughtful advocates will be allowed to testify so that they can be hectored by the gunpowder caucus’ toadies of the NRA.

Meanwhile, the NRA will argue that a bump stock ban would not have prevented the Las Vegas massacre, and will not prevent new mass shooting. That’s a seductive line of reasoning, but it loses persuasiveness when closely scrutinized. First, it’s more accurate to argue that a ban might not have prevented the Las Vegas massacre. But a ban might have if Paddock was willing to carry out his plan only if armed with weapons that could be fired at machine gun rates. Second, bump stocks raised his rate of fire from perhaps three rounds a second to nine to ten rounds per second. Had he not been equipped with bump stocks or like devices, he would have killed and wounded many fewer people.

A bump stock ban need not be perfect to do good. Airbags in automobiles do not prevent all injuries and deaths, but they make many crashes more survivable and therefore justify regulations requiring their installation in all vehicles. So it is with bump stocks and like devices.

Furthermore, a bump stock ban law would establish that finding ways to decrease the rate of fire of civilian weapons is the policy of the United States. That’s a start worth making.

In Montana, Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines, reports the Billings Gazette’s Tom Lutey in an excellent story, are at least willing to hold hearings on bump stocks, but that Rep. Greg Gianforte is not:

Montana Sens. Jon Tester, a Democrat, and Steve Daines, a Republican, said hearings on bump stocks were in order. They stopped short of saying they would support a ban. Republican Greg Gianforte, the state’s only U.S. representative, opposes further gun regulations.

“I’ve owned guns all my life and made a living with one,” Tester said. “I never knew that bump stocks existed until after the Las Vegas massacre. In the limited time I have had to review them, bump stocks don’t appear to have a use other than to make it easier to kill people, but I want to get more information. I think we should hold a hearing on the issue so we can hear from firearms experts, disability advocates and law enforcement.”

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All three have trotted out their gun bona fides during election campaigns. Gianforte’s spring special election ads featured the candidate blasting a television depicting negative advertising. His Twitter account is stocked with photos of cooked wild game and hunting trips. At a fundraiser while running for governor in 2016, Gianforte launched golf balls using an assault rifle-style ball launcher.

Daines made hunting a feature of his campaigns in 2014 and 2012 and also his messaging on preserving gun rights under the Second Amendment.

After the 2012 mass shooting of schoolchildren in Newtown, Connecticut, Tester voted for a 2013 bill sponsored by Sens. Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey to require background checks for gun purchases. Then-Sen. Max Baucus voted against the bill, which died.

Tester, especially, will feel pressure to not vote for a bump stock ban, and may try to finesse the issue by decrying automatic weapons in civilian hands while opposing a bump stock ban that isn’t perfect. He needs to hear from Montana’s voters that it’s okay if he bumps the Aye button if the issue comes to a vote in the U.S. Senate.

But Gianforte’s hard core opposition to tighter controls on firearms may be met with tepid opposition, silence, or “God loves the NRA” statements, from his Democratic opponent next year.

Will the NRA’s strategy prevail? Probably. The longer the debate over the wisdom of banning bump stocks drags one, the higher the probability that foot dragging will drag a bump stock ban down to defeat.

Recommended reading (updated)