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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: Don’t assume ‘bump stocks’ will be banned

It’s widely expected Congress will take action on “bump stocks,” the lowest-hanging fruit in the gun control debate. But while that might seem like a no-brainer, the public can’t assume this will occur once the headlines from the Las Vegas shooting fade.

To reiterate what we said Wednesday, nothing has occurred in the wake of hundreds of mass shootings in recent years. If the public wants action on devices that allow semiautomatic weapons to mimic automatic ones, it will need to keep up the pressure.

Law enforcement said they found 12 bump stocks among the arsenal Stephen Paddock had assembled at his hotel room.

But antipathy to even the slightest gun control should not be underestimated. While most Americans purchase guns for hunting, target shooting and self-defense, others believe they need to arm themselves against the government itself.

The more firepower, the better.

And while that makes little sense when Uncle Sam has the most powerful military on the planet, we can’t discount that this mindset is good for sales. After mass shootings like the one in Las Vegas, gun and ammunition sales typically go up, because people fear that the government is coming to take weapons away or will ban particular ones.

Fear moves product. It also blocks sensible legislation.

The manufacture and sale of new automatic weapons to civilians was curtailed, thanks to the Hughes Amendment, which was affixed to 1986 legislation that generally eased federal restrictions on guns. Machine guns remain in circulation but have become very expensive because the supply hasn’t grown. Plus, a purchaser must go through an extensive, time-consuming background check.

However, if a semiautomatic weapon – one trigger-pull, one shot – can be made to simulate a machine gun with the use of legal devices, then the effectiveness of the ban is undermined.

The National Rifle Association has said that it may be necessary to increase regulations for bump stocks and the like. No, they need to be banned. Anyone watching video of the Las Vegas shooting heard what sounded like automatic weapon fire. The effect was similar.

Some members of Congress are trying to kick the issue over to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for regulation. No, these devices need to be banned. Any ATF regulation can easily be reversed. We’d rather hear elected representatives of Congress weigh in. We’d like to see a vote. Then the onus would be on those who want these devices to remain to make a sane argument.

At a time when Congress can’t even decide to stop or delay sales of weapons to people on the terrorist watch list, at a time when Congress discourages the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from studying gun violence and otherwise treating it like a public health issue, the public cannot assume bump stocks will be banned.

It’s going to take pressure. If the public can’t win on this issue, then there’s little hope of ever making progress on gun violence.

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