Hassan backs bill banning bump stocks; gun owners warn of little impact

  • Maggie Hassan Jim Cole

Monitor staff
Thursday, October 05, 2017

Amid horror and heartache, lawmakers reeling from a mass shooting in Las Vegas have found a rallying point for action: the bump stock.

The plastic extension affixes to the end of a semi-automatic rifle, using the force of the weapon’s recoil to reload bullets and fire them almost as fast as an automatic firearm. It helped Stephen Paddock kill 58 people on Sunday in Las Vegas, after shooting hundreds of rounds into a crowd at a concert, and now, it’s the latest firearm accessory legislators are looking to ban.

But as momentum builds, some New Hampshire gun owners say the devices are actually pretty rare.

“In all the time I’ve been here – and I’ve been here since 1968 – I have never had a person walk into the store and ask for (a bump stock),” said Brad Marshall, owner of Marshall Firearms in Boscawen, a small “mom-and-pop” gun store that doesn’t stock the item. “Not once. Not one person.”

On Wednesday, Democratic senators – including New Hampshire’s Sen. Maggie Hassan – introduced a bill designed to prohibit the manufacture and sale of the accessory and others like it. On Thursday, a group of Republican representatives, led by Carlos Curbelo of Florida submitted similar legislation. Later that day, the National Rifle Association expressed support for stronger regulations on the accessory and a review of their legality, a rare move for the staunchly pro-gun rights organization.

“I think banning bump stocks is the very least that we should be doing, and I’m hopeful that we’ll see bipartisan support for that,” Hassan said in an interview Thursday.

First officially allowed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in a 2010 decision, bump stocks are modeled recreationally. But they also provide a way to sidestep stringent requirements for owning and operating automatic weapons such as machine guns. All machine guns manufactured after 1986 are illegal to buy and sell in the U.S., according to a law passed that year, and those made before then must be bought with a Class 3 federal firearms license. Bump stocks provide an easier – and legal – alternative.

Of the 23 rifles found in the hotel room Paddock used during the attack, 12 were outfitted with bump stocks, law enforcement told the New York Times. The technology allowed Paddock to fire hundreds of rounds a second using weapons that traditionally fire between 60 and 90.

For Hassan, supporting the ban in the wake of the attack was an easy choice. “I’m focused right now, as I think most of us are, on the most urgent and clear-cut issue at the moment,” she said.

At a caucus meeting Tuesday, Hassan and other Democratic senators rallied behind the idea for a ban, determining it to be a politically achievable first step, Hassan recalled. And while no Republican senators co-sponsored the bill immediately, Hassan said that some of her colleagues across the aisle, like John Cornyn of Texas, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and John Thune of South Dakota, have demonstrated interest.

“This is yet another incident in which our country has suffered an untold loss due to a senseless act of gun violence. So I think it’s really important not only to mourn for those we lost in Las Vegas ... but I also think it is long past time that we take real action to prevent future attacks,” she said.

The bump stock ban – as well as legislation to close loopholes around background checks – would be key first steps, she added.

Marshall, for his part, says he’s familiar with the accessory. When he first heard audio of the attack, he knew from the sound pattern the firearm was a modified semi-automatic.

But he called the item a “novelty,” adding that banning the bump stock would likely have little impact on New Hampshire gun owners. The modification is not popular among serious marksmen or hunters, and few other New Hampshire gun stores supply it, he said.

To start, shooting at such a fast rate quickly eats up ammunition, which, at 50 cents a bullet, can be pricey. The item can be dangerous; if a “squib load” bullet jams in the barrel, the high rate of fire could cause an explosion before the marksman has time to react, Marshall said.

And above all, he added, the bullets are indiscriminate.

“There’s no accuracy,” Marshall said. “People enjoy accuracy.”

Richard Scacheri of Andover, a customer at Marshall’s, said similar varieties he’s tried in the past – some involving cranks – are not as smooth as advertised. They break; they’re slow; they can become unwieldy.

“They’re not fool proof,” he said. “They’re a pain in the ass.”

Marshall said he has made a conscious choice not to sell bump stocks, deciding that those who wanted a machine gun experience should go through the proper Class 3 channels. Gun owners who do want them generally buy online anyway, Scacheri added.

“I’m just not into it,” Marshall said. “I want something that’s solid, I want something that’s proven, and I want to appeal to the group of people that enjoy shooting as recreation. Not just spraying the area.”

Addressing gun owners, Hassan appealed for support for the ban.

“I really would encourage all Granite Staters, all responsible gun owners to come together,” she said. “This is a public health issue. We want to protect and honor Second Amendment rights to be sure.

“But when you see a mass shooting like this and understand the horror of it, as we all do, I think it demands action as well as words.”

But despite personal reservations, Marshall and Scacheri argued the choice should be up to consumers.

“They’ve probably sold thousands of these, and because one nut – if he didn’t use that, he’s going to use something else,” Marshall said. “And you can take that to the bank.”

“They’re going after the object,” he added. “They’re not going after the cause.”