WASHINGTON — Bipartisan legislation banning gun accessories known as bump fire stocks was formally introduced Tuesday in the House of Representatives, led by one of the most politically endangered House Republicans, Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo.
The rare effort by 20 members of both parties to restrict these devices follows the mass shooting in Las Vegas that left 58 dead and hundreds more injured.
Guns found in the hotel of Vegas shooter Steven Paddock had been modified with bump stocks, which allow semi-automatic weapons to fire ammunition much more rapidly, similar to the rate of automatic weapons. The accessories are legal and currently the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives does not regulate their manufacture and sale following a legal opinion issued under the Obama administration.
“For the first time in decades, there is growing bipartisan consensus for sensible gun policy, a polarizing issue that has deeply divided Republicans and Democrats,” Curbelo said in a written statement accompanying the legislation.
Despite a string of mass shootings in recent years, gun control legislation has failed to make significant progress in Congress. Democrats controlled the Senate in 2013 but failed to get the votes to tighten background check rules after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut in 2012 killed 20 children and six adults, and subsequent efforts to revive similar proposals have failed in the GOP-controlled Congress.
Curbelo’s district is already expected to be one of the most hotly contested battlegrounds in the 2018 midterms. Along with Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton, the lead Democrat introducing the bill, he required that any lawmaker who co-sponsored the bill had to sign on with a member of the opposite party.
In addition to Curbelo, nine other House Republicans are original co-sponsors, and most of them represent districts that Hillary Clinton won in 2016. Two GOP members — Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida — have already announced that they plan to retire after this session of Congress. Several conservative House Republicans who have sponsored legislation loosening gun restrictions have publicly said they were open to a debate on the issue, but none are officially backing it yet.
Following the shooting, many Republicans on Capitol Hill admitted they didn’t know bump stocks existed, how they worked or the fact that they were so readily available. Many GOP members said they would review any legislation outlawing them, but top leaders and gun rights groups are also suggesting that there’s a way to use new regulations to address the issue and avoid votes on a ban.
Last week House Speaker Paul Ryan pointed out that fully automatic weapons are already banned and noted that there’s already an effort to study whether stricter guidance from an executive branch agency is possible.
“We need to look at how we can tighten up the compliance with this law, so that they are — so that fully automatic weapons are banned,” Ryan said last week. “We need to go back and figure out how this happened in the first place. … There’s a big regulatory question, and then we just have to do more research to find out what’s the best way to make sure that the spirit of law is upheld.”
But many Democrats argue that legislation is needed to ensure these devices aren’t allowed, and the bipartisan House bill introduced Tuesday closely mirrors a measure introduced last week by a group of House Democrats. While many Democrats are pleased that some Republicans are willing to speak out publicly on a gun control issue after years of little real action on Capitol Hill, some are worried this type of targeted measure may draw attention away from broader efforts to beef up background check laws.
“We can always be doing more, but this bill is a crucial starting point,” Moulton said in a written statement. “Congress needs to take a serious look, after every crisis, at whether a law consistent with the Second Amendment would have prevented it. It is time for Democrats and Republicans alike to find the courage to act.”