A small but important crack has opened in the solid wall of opposition to any laws that might reduce horrific mass shootings in America.
Democrats and some Republicans say they want to discuss a federal law that would ban the manufacture, possession or sale of “bump stocks,” an add-on device that can effectively turn a semi-automatic rifle into a weapon that fires as fast as a fully automatic gun.
Banning bump stocks and similar add-ons appears to be an approach that reasonable lawmakers in both parties can embrace. Law-abiding Americans should urge their representatives to pursue the measure as quickly as possible.
Authorities believe Las Vegas killer Stephen Paddock used a bump stock on one or more of his guns. The device uses a weapon’s recoil to speed up the rounds it fires, from roughly one bullet per second to nine.
Semi-automatic guns are lethal enough. But a $200 bump stock turns a gun into a weapon for indiscriminate massacre, accelerating the carnage and threatening not only civilians but also law enforcement officers and other first responders. The only reason to own and use such a device is to amplify a weapon’s killing power.
On Wednesday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California introduced the Automatic Gun Fire Protection Act, which would prohibit sale or possession of bump stocks and similar mechanisms that increase the rate of fire of semi-automatic rifles. The measure exempts authorized law enforcement officials from the ban.
Several Republican senators have said the proposal is worth a hearing, which is progress. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate’s leadership, said Wednesday Congress should at least explore the topic. Other Republicans made similar statements.
More than two dozen Democratic senators support Feinstein’s bill, including Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri.
That’s welcome news. “I don’t know anybody who goes deer hunting that needs to retrofit a gun to fire hundreds of rounds per minute,” she said. “It’s to slaughter people.”
Other local members of Congress should follow her example.
Predictably, there was a rush Wednesday on bump stocks at some gun stores. And any minute now, Second Amendment advocates will insist banning bump stocks somehow violates the Constitution.
It does not. “Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited,” the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in 2008.
He was correct.
Bump stocks are like shouting fire in a crowded theater — dangerous and unnecessary. Banning them should be quick and easy.