Tom Wolf urges Pennsylvania ban on ‘bump stocks’ after Las Vegas massacre
A former Pittsburgh police chief and Gov. Tom Wolf on Tuesday urged bipartisan support for a statewide ban on so-called “bump stocks” — attachments that modify semi-automatic firearms to mimic fully automatic machine guns.
Stephen Paddock — the 64-year-old Las Vegas gunman who killed at least 58 people and injured nearly 500 others at an outdoor music festival Oct. 1 — had 23 guns in his 32nd-floor room at Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino.
Authorities said they found bump or slide stocks attached to 12 of them.
“The massacre in Las Vegas was made worse by the shooter’s ability to fire his military-grade weapons more rapidly at concertgoers and police,” Wolf said in a statement. “We can take a common-sense step to protect citizens and law enforcement by banning these unnecessary and dangerous accessories.”
Wolf, a Democrat, voiced support for a new proposal by two House Democrats and a Republican senator that would prohibit the possession of a bump stock or slide device. The governor praised the trio of lawmakers for “rightfully sounding the alarm that these devices should not be legal in Pennsylvania.”
“Before this tragic incident in Las Vegas, I’d never heard of these things,” said proposal co-author state Rep. Dom Costa, D-Stanton Heights, a 27-year law enforcement veteran who served as Pittsburgh’s chief of police in 2006. “It’s not a firearm; it’s something that alters a legal weapon to make it simulated to be like an illegal weapon.”
Shirking machine-gun rules
Bump stocks have been around for less than a decade.
Originally created with the idea of making it easier for people with disabilities to shoot a gun, the attachments allow a semi-automatic rifle to fire more like a fully automatic weapon by unleashing an entire large magazine in seconds.
Manufacturers have touted the stocks, some of which sell for less than $200, as offering a simple and affordable alternative to automatic weapons without the hassle of a rigorous background check and other restrictions.
Now, the deadly shooting in Las Vegas has drawn attention to the devices, which critics say flout federal restrictions on automatic guns.
Also on Tuesday, the Washington-based Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence announced a class-action lawsuit in Nevada against Texas-based manufacturer Slide Fire Solutions, alleging negligence and misleading marketing tactics, including advertising the devices’ ability “to mimic the fire rate of a fully automatic rifle for a fraction of the price and without the legal paperwork.” The company has suspended new orders and has not commented since the shooting.
The lawsuit alleges that bump stocks enable the type of rapid firing “designed to kill as many people as quickly as possible, and thus belongs on the battlefield, not on our streets or communities.”
“This horrific assault would not and could not have occurred, with a conventional handgun, rifle or shotgun, of the sort used by law-abiding responsible gun owners for hunting or self-defense,” the complaint states.
Some manufacturers and shops have stopped selling bump stocks since the mass shooting, and YouTube has begun yanking videos that show users how to modify firearms to make them fire more rapidly.
The National Rifle Association said it’s open to more regulation and scrutiny over bump stocks but stopped short of supporting an outright ban .
Online orders for bump stocks have surged as Congress considers a federal crackdown on the devices.
Building bipartisan consensus
The bill to ban bump stocks in Pennsylvania still is being drafted, but Costa said the proposal would add “multi-burst trigger activators” to the state’s list of “offensive weapons.” That would make getting caught with one punishable by up to five years in prison.
“Basically, what I want it to do is to make sure that it will prevent any weapon now in production or in future production from being altered to fire more than one round per trigger squeeze,” Costa said.
Costa said he’s optimistic that the GOP-controlled Legislature will enact the ban, which he views as separate from other gun-control proposals that have faltered in recent years. He emphasized the bill was not about restrictions on already-legal firearms but rather on accessories that evade existing law (machine guns have been prohibited in the United States since 1986 unless they were manufactured before then and registered under the National Firearms Act).
House GOP spokesman Steve Miskin said Republican leaders will be paying close attention to the issue.
“I’m very confident that we will take a serious look at the issue,” Miskin said. “Will it get a vote? I don’t know.”
Next week, the bill’s sponsors — Costa, Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Abington, and state Sen. Pat Browne, R-Allentwon — plan to sit down with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Ron Marsico to discuss details.
Costa co-chairs the House Second Amendment Caucus and said he firmly supports every American’s right to bear arms, but emphasized that “there’s no reason in the world for me to have a device that makes my legal semi-automatic into a simulated machine gun.”
He recalled transitioning Pittsburgh’s SWAT team from fully automatic weapons down to three-round bursts that allow for better accuracy.
“Fully automatic is not controllable under any circumstances,” Costa said. “It’s good for the military when you try to fire a lot of bullets down range, but when you’re in the civilian atmosphere, there’s no place for them.”
Costa added, “I don’t ever want to see our police officers have to face that.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8514, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @NewsNatasha.
Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff reporter. You can contact Natasha at 412-380-8514, email@example.com or via Twitter .