[Spoiler alert: no they’re not! Don’t be silly.]
Update: After I posted this morning, the NRA actually came out and endorsed regulations of bump stock conversion kits. Who woulda thunk it?
The Las Vegas massacre has brought a heretofore obscure gun-related device into the national conversation. The device in question, called a “bump stock,” allows owners of legal semi-automatic assault rifles like the popular AR-15 to convert the weapon so that it mimics the fully automatic fire of a military-style machine gun. That makes it perfect for gun owners who plan to kill or injure hundreds by firing into a dense crowd of people, like maniac Stephen Paddock did in Las Vegas Sunday night.
Paddock reportedly had multiple weapons equipped with bump stocks with him in the hotel room he somehow managed to convert into an armed fortress at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino. Based on the audio recordings of the attack, where you can hear a weapon that sounds just like a machine gun from an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, it appears clear that Paddock used these devices, which can be freely bought online for about a hundred bucks, to rain death and mayhem on the innocent crowd of concert-goers.
To understand why this is important, you need to know a bit about the regulation of weapons that were manufactured to fire in fully automatic mode. Machine guns like these have been heavily regulated since the 1930s, when Congress passed a law making it very difficult to obtain these weapons in the wake of the 1929 Valentine’s Day massacre in Chicago, which involved the use of fully automatic “Tommy guns.” The law was revised in 1986 to fully ban the weapons, including their manufacture, except for sale to government agencies including, of course, the military. These laws mean that, to obtain a machine gun, it would have to be manufactured before 1986, since none were manufactured after that date for private sale. As a result, machine guns are prohibitively expensive these days, costing as much as a small luxury car.
On the other hand, AR-15s and similar rifles are widely available and relatively cheap. My gun nut stepson owns one on a truck driver’s wages. So as the law stands today, a mass murderer like Stephen Paddock can marry an inexpensive weapon to a hundred dollar part available online, and presto! Instant machine gun.
Believe it or not, a handful of congressional Republicans have made statements indicating they may be open to a law regulating or maybe even banning bump stocks. Such devices, after all, have only two uses: (1) to kill lots of people at once; and (2) allow yahoos to go to the gun range and shoot ’em up like a real-life video game and whoop “Yee Haw, that there is some more fun to shoot! ‘Murica!”
Senator John Cornyn of Texas, for example, thinks it’s something Congress “ought to explore.” Lindsay Graham, Orrin Hatch, and Marco Rubio are also on record as saying banning bump stocks is something Congress should consider, albeit in cautious language.
Other Republicans, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, are making the usual pious noises about how now “is not the time” because we ought to concentrate on meaningless expressions of condolences to the victims and their families. Again, if now is not the time, when is the time?
These “courageous” Republicans ought not give us much hope, though, that even this tiny step towards sanity will ever be actually enacted. After all, this is the same group of NRA fellaters who blocked a bill to ban high-capacity magazines after the massacre at Virginia Tech a decade ago, then blocked expanded background checks for gun purchases five years later after an elementary school was shot up in Newton, Connecticut, and then AND THEN, after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando last year, blocked proposed legislation banning sales of guns to people on federal terrorist watch lists. The all-powerful NRA has been stone silent since the Las Vegas shooting, but you can bet the handful of GOPers making mealy-mouthed statements about banning bump stocks will change their tune once the NRA issues their marching orders. Banning bump stocks, after all, is just one step down the slippery slope leading inevitably to Barack Obama establishing a dictatorship and and going after everybody’s guns.
This is the NRA’s America, where the guns just keep on killing while the NRA’s money just keeps on flowing.