We have all seen the horrific video of the Las Vegas mass shooting massacre over and over again, and we've heard the terrifying staccato of what sounds like machine gun fire.
While the usual cowardly refusal to discuss gun control immediately took hold of our media and Republicans in government, one bit of consensus seems to be emerging a few days after the fact.
Republicans are expressing a willingness to consider banning an accessory called the “bump stock,” or “slide stock,” which allows a semi-automatic rifle to fire at a rate comparable to a fully automatic weapon. Even White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway has feinted at opposing the bump stock.
There's a very good reason for this, which is that it would satisfy the intense public pressure to do something while having little effect on anything. And as Conway noted, members of Congress are largely ignorant about the accessories, so they probably underestimate the amount of blowback they'd get from gun fanatics.
Bump-fire accessories have been around for a while, and the reason they're legal is that they don't actually perform any mechanical function or alter the weapon itself in any way. What they do is harness the weapon's recoil to achieve enough “trigger pulls” to approximate the rate of fire of a fully automatic weapon; essentially, you don't pull the trigger, the trigger pulls you.
It is possible to achieve this bump-fire effect without any accessory at all, although that usually requires firing from the hip. The bump-fire accessories make it possible to do so while firing from the shoulder, which improves accuracy, and without having to make super-awkward hand movements.
A few years ago, I put together a video to see if people could tell the difference between the rate of fire of fully automatic weapons, which are essentially banned, and semi-automatics, which are not.
Spoiler alert: None of the weapons demonstrated here are fully automatic. Some are equipped with slide stocks, some are being bump-fired without any accessory, and some are just semi-automatics being fired really fast. The differences are noted in the end credits:
Banning bump-fire accessories seems like a no-brainer, although I think it will end up being more difficult than Republicans think, but if this demonstration shows anything, it's that such a step is so insufficient as to be negligible. First of all, any sort of bump-firing significantly reduces accuracy, which matters much less when you have a shooter on the 32nd floor firing into a crowd of thousands.
But this is the only massacre of that sort thus far, and it's quite possible that the Las Vegas shooter could have killed even more people firing semi-auto. The spray of bullets he achieved likely increased the number of people wounded, but a much more accurate and marginally slower rate of fire could have resulted in many more deaths.
What made this incident so deadly, and what makes so many other mass shootings so deadly, are the ready availability of these weapons and their ability to fire so many rounds without reloading. What drives the astronomical rate of gun deaths in the U.S. is the ready availability of semi-automatic handguns.
A comprehensive approach that includes an assault weapons ban (which includes high-capacity magazines), universal background checks, and liability for straw purchases is what this crisis requires. For a start.
If you doubt the insufficiency of banning bump-fire accessories, note that while I was writing this, Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that the Trump administration is “open” to such a ban and that the National Rifle Association released a statement indicating that such accessories “should be subject to additional regulations.”
The NRA statement in particular, though, should also indicate just how vulnerable the gun lobby feels after this tragedy. Bump stocks seem like an easy sacrificial lamb because they are. I predict, though, that the people who get their jollies bump-firing at cantaloupes in their backyards will turn out to be more vocal than the NRA thinks they will be, and they'll end up double-crossing Republicans on this.
Watch Sanders's remarks on bump stocks below.