The New York Times reports that — as I recently predicted — there seems to be some support among Republicans in Congress for banning “bump stocks,” which make it easier to fire semiautomatic weapons at a rate similar to that of automatic weapons:
Top congressional Republicans, who have for decades resisted any legislative limits on guns, signaled on Wednesday that they would be open to banning the firearm accessory that the Las Vegas gunman used to transform his rifles to mimic automatic weapon fire.
For a generation, Republicans in Congress — often joined by conservative Democrats — have bottled up gun legislation, even as the carnage of mass shootings grew ever more gruesome and the weaponry ever more deadly. A decade ago, they blocked efforts to limit the size of magazines after the massacre at Virginia Tech. Five years later, Republican leaders thwarted bipartisan legislation to expand background checks of gun purchasers after the mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
Last year, in the wake of the Orlando nightclub massacre, they blocked legislation to stop gun sales to buyers on terrorism watch lists.
But in this week’s massacre in Las Vegas, lawmakers in both parties may have found the part of the weapons trade that few could countenance: previously obscure gun conversion kits, called “bump stocks,” that turn semiautomatic weapons into weapons capable of firing in long, deadly bursts.
Before we go any further, let’s just correct some of the revisionist history here. In 2016, both sides passed their own stiffer gun control measures, each set of which was blocked by the other party. So it would be perfectly accurate to say that some gun restrictions were backed by Republicans but blocked by Democrats. For example, Republicans voted for a bill that would ban sales of firearms to people on terrorism watch lists. But Democrats voted against it because they rejected the due process protections that Republicans had included, given the well-known overbreadth of the no-fly list and the constitutional issues at stake. Republicans also voted to fortify the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Democrats voted against that proposal because they wanted more. Democrats would rather have gun control as an issue to smear Republicans with than accomplish something and have to share credit. Just so we’re clear on that.
Back to the article and the bump stock issue:
“I own a lot of guns, and as a hunter and sportsman, I think that’s our right as Americans, but I don’t understand the use of this bump stock,” Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, said, adding, “It seems like it’s an obvious area we ought to explore and see if it’s something Congress needs to act on.”
. . . .
Other Republican senators, including Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Orrin G. Hatch of Utah and Marco Rubio of Florida, said they would be open to considering legislation on bump stocks.
. . . .
In the House, Representative Carlos Curbelo, Republican of Florida, said he was drafting bipartisan legislation banning the conversion kits. Representative Mark Meadows, the head of the conservative Freedom Caucus, also said he would be open to considering a bill, while Representative Bill Flores, Republican of Texas, called for an outright ban.
“I think they should be banned,” Mr. Flores told the newspaper The Hill. “There’s no reason for a typical gun owner to own anything that converts a semiautomatic to something that behaves like an automatic.”
I understand the reluctance of gun rights supporters not to give the left even an inch on this. Every time there is a mass shooting, the left agitates for some form of new gun control, as if this would solve the problem. Often the new gun control proposal has no connection to the shooting that prompted the proposal, and would not have prevented the current tragedy. That doesn’t stop the left. It’s like clockwork: they act as if conservatives simply acceded to their “common sense” proposals — some of which include banning all semiautomatics (!) or even grabbing all guns in the country (!!) — there would be no problem.
It doesn’t matter that researchers who look into gun control as gun control supporters have their minds changed by the data, and come to doubt the efficacy of gun control. For the left, policy is almost always about intentions, and not results.
But the fact that “common sense” has become a leftist buzz phrase to represent “more gun control” doesn’t mean we can’t apply some actual common sense, consistent with the Constitution and the Heller decision. Justice Scalia said in Heller that “commentators and courts [have] routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” The justices in the Heller majority were not saying that machine guns were constitutionally protected. So what is the real problem with banning something that makes it easy to replicate the speed of automatic fire with a semiautomatic handguns?
I saw someone compare the Second Amendment’s relation to machine guns with the First Amendment’s relation to child pornography. Just because an amendment protects a right we love, and just because people are always trying to chip away at the freedoms protected by that amendment, does not mean we must automatically oppose any restrictions whatsoever. Unless you want to go to the mattresses to argue that we need to make machine guns fully available again — which they are not now — then there is little reason to get exercised about bump stocks.
Supporters of new legislation need to understand certain limitations on the efficacy of any proposed legislation. There are other ways to replicate the speed of machine gun fire. It can be done using one’s belt loops, as a simple YouTube search will show. Such techniques may not be as easy as using bump stocks, or permit the same sort of accuracy and aim, but they are possible. Also, bump stocks do tend to lead to less accurate fire than a simple semiautomatic, used in the normal manner, is capable of — making their use as a killing accessory rather limited to situations like the Las Vegas shooting, where there is a packed crowd and accuracy is less important. And the slippery slope argument is nothing to sneeze at. The real goal here is to ban all firearms. We need to be aware of that and vigilant against it.
And, as is always the case with gun control measures, you’re not going to prevent more mass shootings by passing this legislation. At best, you might make it marginally harder for someone to copycat this exact shooting in this exact manner.
That said, I don’t see the Big Threat to Our Liberties here. I think this particular restriction is coming, and it’s sensible. Republicans are right to get ahead of it.