A BUMP IN THE ROAD

A Bipartisan Bill to Ban Bump Stocks Is Hitting Some Bumps

The most promising legislative vehicle after the Vegas massacre has already been revised to avoid Democratic opposition.

Lawmakers are trying to thread the needle as they attempt to craft bipartisan legislation to ban devices that turn semi-automatic weapons into, effectively, fully automatic ones.

An early draft of legislation authored by Reps. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) and Seth Moulton (D-MA) raised concerns among House Democrats whose support for the bill is likely needed to ensure its passage. And already, changes have been made to the legislative text to stave off any defections.

An initial draft of the bill obtained by The Daily Beast, would have prohibited “the possession or transfer” of bump stocks, which Stephen Paddock used to kill 58 people in Las Vegas this week. A Hill aide noted that such language did not explicitly call for a ban on the importation or manufacturing of bump stocks as well, which, the worry goes, could effectively create a robust black market for the device.

The Curbelo-Moulton bill also had included a provision that would have instituted a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years for those who use guns equipped with bump stocks in a drug trafficking or violent crimes. The provision had been privately flagged as problematic by Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee who view mandatory minimums as too blunt a form of punishment or crime deterrent.

By Friday afternoon both of those provisions were no longer in the text. A final copy of the bill, obtained by The Daily Beast, explicitly calls for a prohibition on manufacturing, possessing and transferring bump stocks. It also states that the prohibition applies to “interstate or foreign commerce.”

Additionally, the bill no longer subjects those who commit drug or violent crimes with use of a bump stock to a ten-year mandatory minimum sentence. In its place it calls for a judicial review to determine the proper punishment.

Bills often go through numerous drafts before their formal introductions. So the changing of the language of the legislation authored by Moulton and Curbelo is hardly unique. But it still illustrates the difficult task that the two members face as they try to craft a response to the Las Vegas shooting. 

The Curbelo-Moulton bill is one of several offered in the aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting that would ban the use of bump stocks. It is, however, the only one that has bipartisan support, which makes it the most likely for passage. A House aide said that the legislation currently has four Republican co-sponsors (including Curbelo) and three Democrats (including Moulton)

But in order to make it through the House, the bill would need not just the willingness of Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) to bring it to the floor, but also—likely—the support of a fair number of Democrats, since a large chunk of the House Republican caucus is unlikely to support measures construed as gun control. 

This piece has been updated with additional reporting.