As more information trickles in about Stephen Paddock — the gunman who unleashed a torrent of automatic fire on a crowd of concert-goers in Las Vegas from his hotel room, killing 58 people and wounding more than 500 — the debate over gun control has been messily reignited.
In its wake, many on the left, from commentators to Democratic lawmakers, have resumed calls for new gun control legislation. Conservatives, as is tradition, have either dismissed those calls as a too-soon politicization of tragedy, or bizarrely claimed that nothing could have been done to avoid the massacre.
And there’s one somewhat semantic point that many pro-gun commentators have harped in on: fully automatic weapons, such as the ones that seem to have been used by Paddock, are illegal, and have been banned since 1986. So, they argue, if such weapons are already banned, what new gun-control legislation could have possibly stopped the massacre in Vegas?
As police continue to investigate the attack, it is becoming clear that Paddock was aided in his bloody massacre by a veritable arsenal of military-grade weaponry. Chief amongst those: semi-automatic rifles, which were affixed with a legal and readily available device called a “bump stock,” that allows for near-automatic gunfire.
And bump stocks are not just easily procurable — they’re cheap, with some available online for less than $100. They use the recoil of the gun to create a bounce effect on the trigger, allowing for rapid fire shooting of hundreds of rounds per minute. This allowed for Paddock to kill 58 people and wound at least 527 others from a distance of 400 meters in just a matter of minutes.
As explained in the MSNBC clip above, Paddock had 23 guns — all of which were purchased legally — in his Mandalay hotel room, including AK-47 and AR-15-style rifles affixed with bump stock modifications. It seems, therefore, that Paddock legally purchased an arsenal of semi-automatic rifles, which he turned into machine guns with legally purchased modifications.
In light of this information, a few questions must be asked of conservatives calling for nothing to be done in the face of this tragedy. If it is so easy to turn a semi-automatic into a machine gun, what is the point of banning fully automatic weapons in the first place?
Some have pointed out that once a semi-automatic is modified to work as a machine gun, it is no longer legal. But if the device needed to make the modification is legal and easily available, the legality of the final product is of little importance. So in addition, why are bump stocks legal?
Practically, when it comes to the bloody devastation these weapons can cause , there isn’t much of a difference between semi-automatic and fully automatic weapons. Make no mistake, these are offensive weapons, they are military-developed war machines that should not be available to civilians. When ISIS-inspired terrorist Omar Mateen attacked the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando just 16 months ago, he used a measly semi-automatic assault rifle to kill 49 people — and that was, until Vegas, the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
But that is besides the point here — given the pathetic impotency of Congress and the vast power of the gun lobby, a ban on semi-automatic assault weapons as well as automatic ones is nothing more than a pipe-dream.
There is, however, something that can be done, and I propose it to the steady stream of commentators that have taken to Fox News to marvel at how this tragedy could have been avoided.
It’s simple: ban bump stocks.
California Senator Dianne Feinstein has already announced she intends to introduce legislation that would ban the devices (she wasted no time in politicizing the tragedy, and good for her):
Feinstein had previously attempted to ban bump stocks in 2013, one month after 20 children were mowed down with an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, but the legislation — which included an assault weapons ban — was defeated in the Senate.
A simple ban on bump stocks is an insufficient measure in the face of such carnage, but the least that can be done. If conservatives are comfortable with a ban on fully automatic machine guns, they should have no problem outlawing a device that allows for semi-automatic rifles to emulate their more violent brothers.
[image via screengrab]