WASHINGTON ― House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Thursday became the highest-ranking Republican to call for scrutiny of so-called bump stocks, which allowed the Las Vegas mass killer to fire semi-automatic assault rifles as rapidly as machine guns.
“Look, I didn’t know what they were until this week and I’m an avid sportsman, and so we are quickly coming up to speed with this,” Ryan said in an interview with MSNBC’s Hugh Hewitt. “So to turn a semiautomatic to fully automatic is something we have to look into.”
Bump stocks, inexpensive accessories that essentially turn a semiautomatic weapon into an automatic one, circumvent federal laws that strictly regulate firearms that can fire a burst of bullets with a single pull of the trigger. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said the shooter in Las Vegas had outfitted 12 firearms with bump stocks, allowing him to fire into the crowd of 22,000 people at a faster rate.
Many congressional GOPers said they were unfamiliar with bump stocks and needed time to research them. Momentum for a ban on the gun accessories began to build this week, however, after several key GOP senators either called for a hearing, or for a ban on bump stocks outright.
“The fact that fully-automatic weapons are already illegal and this makes another weapon capable [of automatic fire], I would be supportive of that,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who chairs the Homeland Security Committee, said Wednesday when asked about legislation banning bump stocks.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a longtime advocate of banning assault weapons, on Wednesday introduced a bill that would block the sale and possession of bump stocks. It had 26 co-sponsors, but no Republican support.
House Democrats, led by Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island, have introduced a companion bill to Feinstein’s measure that would ban the sale and possession of bump stocks. The legislation had 139 co-sponsors, and several House GOPers have expressed support for such a ban.
“Bump stocks generating automatic rates of fire should face the same restrictions as automatic weapons,” Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) tweeted Thursday.
Reps. Bill Flores (R-Texas.) and Kevin Yoder (R-Kansas) have said they support the idea of a ban on bump stocks.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, said Thursday he was “looking at” the matter.
Still, any effort at regulating guns would face tough odds in a Republican-controlled Congress. Some conservatives are already warning that banning bump stocks could lead to other gun control measures ― a slippery-slope argument that advocates of the Second Amendment have made for years.
The National Rifle Association, the main gun lobby, has remained silent in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting ― a tactic it employs repeatedly after mass shootings. Conservative radio talk show host Dana Loesch, who is an NRA spokeswoman, has expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of a ban on bump stocks.
The push to ban bump stocks could gain steam if President Donald Trump decides to weigh in. The president has refrained from speaking out, maintaining that it is too soon after the massacre to discuss gun control.
“We’ll be talking about gun laws as time goes on,” Trump said this week.
Ari Fleischer, a former White House press secretary and supporter of the president, urged Trump to direct the ATF to outlaw bump stocks via regulation.
Correction: Rep. Bill Flores represents a district in Texas, not Florida.