Americans still await that ‘educated conversation’ on bump stocks: Eric Foster

Gun Rights

On September 25, 2017, Stephen Paddock, a retired former IRS Agent and real estate flipper, checked into Room 32-135 of the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada for a week-long stay. His scheduled check-out date was October 2, 2017. On September 29, 2017, Paddock checked into another room at the Mandalay Bay, Room 32-134, which was connected to Room 32-135 via connecting doors, under his girlfriend’s name.

Between September 25 and October 1, Paddock transported multiple suitcases to his room on several occasions. On some occasions, he required the assistance of bellmen because of the amount of luggage. By the 1st, he had 22 suitcases in his room.

On October 1, 2017, more than 22,000 people were enjoying the final night of the Route 91 Harvest Festival at the Las Vegas Village. Closing the festival was chart-topping country music artist Jason Aldean. Aldean took the stage at around 9:40 p.m.

That same evening, Paddock used a hammer to break the windows to his suites. The first shots were fired at 10:05 p.m. By 10:16 p.m., a mere 11 minutes later, Paddock had fired 1,057 shots into Las Vegas Village. With police closing in, Paddock ended his own life.

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Eric Foster

Eric Foster, a community member of the editorial board, is a columnist for The Plain Dealer and cleveland.com. Foster is a lawyer in private practice. The views expressed are his own. 

The result of Paddock’s shooting spree: 58 dead concert goers, with more than 700 others injured.

Subsequent investigation revealed Paddock had 22 firearms in his hotel suites. All of them were purchased legally. Of the 22 firearms, 13 of them were AR-15s. All were equipped with bump stocks.

This was the first high-profile mass shooting involving bump stocks. After learning about the device, the public responded as you could expect.

A Morning Consult study shortly after the Las Vegas shooting found that 72% of registered voters supported a bump stock ban. Sixty-eight percent of Republicans supported a ban. Seventy-nine percent Democrats said the same.

In a shocking twist, even the NRA joined in the calls for something to be done. The notoriously anti-gun control organization said that it “believes that devices designed to allow semi-automatic rifles to function like fully-automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations.” While making it clear that banning AR-15s should not be on the table, the organization asked for regulators to “immediately review whether these devices comply with federal law.”

Politicians noticed the wave of public discontent.

President Donald Trump told reporters his administration would look into whether to ban bump stocks “in the next short period of time.” Democratic U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced a bill to ban bump stocks days after the shooting. Republicans were working on their own bill as well.

Ultimately, no federal legislation to ban bump stocks was passed. The NRA opposed Senator Feinstein’s bill, claiming — as it does with any gun control legislation — that it violated the 2nd Amendment. The group decided that new rules, rather than legislation, were the best way to regulate bump stocks.

Republican legislators decided against introducing a bill because … well … the ATF could fix the problem. Then Speaker of the House, Representative Paul Ryan, said “a regulatory fix,” rather than legislation was the correct way to go.

The ATF disagreed.

It said that it had no jurisdiction over bump stocks because they are, in fact, not guns. In the ATF’s view, bump stocks are simply “a firearm part” not subject to regulation.

Things changed for the ATF a mere five months later. In March 2018, the Justice Department proposed to amend the ATF’s regulations to define bump stocks as machine guns under federal law. Then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, “After the senseless attack in Las Vegas, this proposed rule is a critical step in our effort to reduce the threat of gun violence that is in keeping with the Constitution and the laws passed by Congress.”

The regulation became final in December 2018.

The White House said that President Trump was “once again fulfilling a promise he made to the American people.” The NRA was not entirely pleased as the final rule did not provide amnesty for the gun owners who “relied on prior ATF determinations when lawfully acquiring these devices.”

Last week, six years after its promulgation, the conservative supermajority of the U.S. Supreme Court — including all three President Trump appointees — struck down the ATF’s December 2018 rule. The decision reads like a user manual for bump stocks, but the gist of it is relatively simple. Machine guns fire multiple rounds automatically with one pull of the trigger. A semi-automatic rifle with a bump stock is not a machine gun because it does not operate in this way. It still requires multiple pulls of the trigger. The bump stock just reduces the amount of time that elapses between pulls of the trigger.

I don’t have anything particularly clever or insightful to say. I just think that, in discussing the present, we should consider the past. How we got here matters.

I’ll leave you with this. In an interview conducted after the shooting, the NRA’s chief lobbyist, Chris Cox, said, “The day before we put out that statement there were enough votes in the House of Representatives, the pro-gun Republican House of Representatives, to pass a Feinstein-Curbelo type of bill.” For your information, Curbelo refers to Carlos Curbelo, a former Republican congressman from Florida.

Cox went on, “The truth is we needed to slow down the process and have an educated conversation.”

I guess over the past six to seven years, we had that educated conversation. Don’t we all feel better now?

Eric Foster, a community member of the editorial board, is a columnist for The Plain Dealer and cleveland.com. Foster is a lawyer in private practice. The views expressed are his own.

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