WASHINGTON -- The National Rifle Association has issued a call for the federal government to review a device that was used to accelerate gunfire in the Las Vegas massacre, after the White House and top Republicans signaled a willingness to debate the issue in response to the tragedy.
"The NRA believes that devices designed to allow semi-automatic rifles to function like fully-automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations," the association said in a statement Thursday.
The statement, issued by Wayne LaPierre, the association's executive vice president and chief executive, and Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, was referring to devices called bump stocks, which allow legal semi-automatic rifles to fire as rapidly as more heavily restricted automatic weapons.
The statement cautioned that "banning guns from law-abiding Americans based on the criminal act of a madman will do nothing to prevent future attacks." Still, the statement was expected to galvanize the effort to further regulate the devices.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., said Thursday that lawmakers will consider doing so.
"Clearly that's something we need to look into," Ryan said on MSNBC. He said he did not know what bump stocks were before Sunday's shooting, which left at least 58 concertgoers dead and hundreds injured.
"This is definitely an area where we're going to look and be able to act on," McCarthy said on Fox News.
"We're going to look at the issue," Goodlatte told The Washington Post.
On Thursday afternoon, White House spokesman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said President Donald Trump was open to having the conversation.
"We think that we should have that conversation. And we want to be part of it moving forward," Sanders said during a news briefing.
The growing willingness to address the issue within the GOP stands in contrast to the party's usual opposition to measures to restrict firearm use and access. The shift comes as lawmakers have sought to fend off criticism that Congress has done nothing to address mass shootings.
It does not hurt that these particular restrictions might not garner as much resistance from the National Rifle Association as other gun-control proposals. The group exerts heavy influence on the GOP's approach to gun policy.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., so far, has not indicated that he is on board.
He told reporters Tuesday that it is "completely inappropriate to politicize an event like this" and declined to answer further questions on the subject.
Asked Thursday about McConnell's position, a spokesman referred to the leader's comments earlier in the week.
House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., who returned to Congress last week after surviving a shooting in Alexandria in July, echoed McConnell in an interview Wednesday.
"I think it's a shame that the day somebody hears about a shooting, the first thing they think about is how can I go promote my gun-control agenda, as opposed to saying, how do I go pray and help the families that are suffering?" he said.
The investigation into the shooting continued Thursday, with investigators saying they were probing whether gunman Stephen Paddock had scoped out bigger music festivals in Las Vegas and Chicago -- and perhaps Boston's Fenway Park -- before setting up his perch in a hotel casino and raining deadly fire on a country-music concert.
Paddock booked rooms overlooking the Lollapalooza festival in Chicago in August and the Life Is Beautiful show near the Vegas Strip in late September, according to authorities reconstructing his movements before he undertook the deadliest mass shooting in the U.S. in recent years.
It was not clear whether he contemplated massacres at those sites.
Investigators also came across mention of Fenway Park, Boston police Lt. Mike McCarthy said, though he provided no further details.
The details came to light as investigators struggled to explain why the high-stakes gambler opened fire on a crowd of 22,000 Sunday night from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel casino in Las Vegas. He took his own life after the attack.
Investigators on Wednesday confirmed that the gunman had left a note inside his suite. "It was not a suicide note -- I'm comfortable saying that," Sheriff Joseph Lombardo of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department said.
Although Paddock killed himself as a SWAT team closed in, the sheriff said it appeared he had planned to survive and had an escape plan. Lombardo would not elaborate on the plan.
The gunman's motive remains unknown, Lombardo said. Despite the meticulous planning that went into the attack, the gunman left behind few obvious traces, with no social media footprint to examine or manifesto to be pored over, he said.
A federal official said authorities also were looking into the possibility Paddock planned additional attacks, including a car bombing. The official wasn't authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Authorities previously disclosed that Paddock had 1,600 rounds of ammunition in his car, along with fertilizer that can be used to make explosives and 50 pounds of Tannerite, a substance used in explosive rifle targets.
Las Vegas police announced Thursday that they had found a Hyundai Tucson they had been searching for as part of the investigation while executing a search warrant at the home in Reno that Paddock shared with his girlfriend, Marilou Danley. It wasn't immediately clear if the car was found Thursday or earlier in the week when police searched the home and found several guns and ammunition.
Paddock had an arsenal of 23 weapons in his hotel room. A dozen of them were outfitted with bump stocks.
In Congress, support for a bump-stock ban began to coalesce around several bills.
One, unveiled Wednesday by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., would ban the sale, transfer and manufacture of bump stocks, trigger cranks and other accessories that can accelerate a semi-automatic rifle's rate of fire.
Feinstein's bill had support from 38 Democrats as of Thursday morning, including Sens. Bill Nelson of Florida and Claire McCaskill of Missouri, who both face uphill fights for re-election next year.
Democrats' own electoral map might complicate the debate, as 10 Democratic senators, including McCaskill, face re-election bids in mostly rural states that Trump easily won in the 2016 election. Those senators were more cautious in their remarks on the bill.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said in a statement that she did not know much about bump stocks, "and I first want to learn more about them." Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said Feinstein's idea "sounds sensible and reasonable to me" but that he would consult hunters in his state before taking a position.
Several other Senate Democrats said they planned to introduce or reintroduce additional gun-control legislation.
In the House, meanwhile, Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., said he has drafted a measure banning bump stocks, and he said Thursday that his office has been flooded with calls from "dozens" of his fellow Republicans who want to sign on.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the sheer carnage of Sunday's mass shooting is fueling lawmakers' interest in the issue.
"Look at Las Vegas. That's how I account for it. Americans are horrified by it. They're horrified and they should be. I mean, it's the biggest killing in American history," he told reporters.
In a sign of the far-reaching interest in the issue, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., an ardent conservative, suggested he's open to supporting the bill. "Not yet," he said. "I think I probably will eventually."
Some lawmakers were pursuing a different approach to banning bump stocks that could pre-empt legislation.
Two House Republicans with military backgrounds, Reps. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, were gathering signatures Thursday for a bipartisan letter asking the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to revisit its 2010 administrative determination that bump stocks are legal.
Some Democrats made the same request in their own letter to the bureau.
DIGS AT OBAMA
In its Thursday statement, the NRA issued a similar call in which it embedded a jab at former President Barack Obama.
"Despite the fact that the Obama administration approved the sale of bump fire stocks on at least two occasions, the National Rifle Association is calling on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) to immediately review whether these devices comply with federal law," the statement said.
The NRA's framing of the issue echoed an argument made Thursday morning by White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, that the deregulation of bump stocks had been an Obama administration blunder.
"It was President Obama's ATF, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, in 2010 that decided not to regulate this device," she told CNN's Chris Cuomo. "That should be part of the conversation and part of the facts that you put before your viewers."
The Obama administration's role in the deregulation was previously reported by The Washington Post; on Wednesday, Obama-era ATF official Rick Vasquez, who approved the devices, said they were intended "for those guys who want to look like super ninja when they're out on the range."
At the time, the Obama administration did not believe the devices contravened federal regulations against machine guns, as they did not modify the machinery of guns themselves, he said.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc., meanwhile, said it had removed "bump stock" devices sold by third-party vendors from its website after the Las Vegas shooting.
A spokesman for the Bentonville-based retailer said they violate Wal-Mart's prohibited items policy and "never should have been sold on our site." It's not clear how long the bump-stock devices were available on the retailer's online marketplace before being pulled down.
Bump stocks were unknown to many members of Congress before Sunday's shooting, and lawmakers across the political spectrum said they have since logged onto YouTube to watch videos showing how the devices work.
"That's what I did yesterday," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, adding that many of her colleagues have done the same. "I don't think most people in the Senate were familiar with this."
Even some of the most avid supporters of gun rights said they had not heard of bump stocks before this week.
Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., a member of the House Second Amendment Caucus, said he was continuing to research the accessory.
"But if it allows a semi-automatic to do what that guy did?" he said. "I think we need to have serious considerations if we're going to allow that."
Information for this article was contributed by Mike DeBonis, Elise Viebeck, Ed O'Keefe and David Weigel of The Washington Post; by Michael Balsamo, Brian Melley, Don Babwin, Michael Tarm, Alanna Durkin Richer, Jonathan J. Cooper, Ken Ritter, Sadie Gurman and Erica Werner of The Associated Press; by staff members of The New York Times; by Robbie Neiswanger of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
A Section on 10/06/2017
Print Headline: NRA suggests legal scrutiny of bump stocks; Fast-shot devices need look, agree lawmakers, president