In the wake of previous high-profile mass shootings in America, the National Rifle Association has followed a familiar pattern: It waits in silence until the outrage ebbs before coming out against legislative responses.
In the aftermath of the shooting in Las Vegas that killed 59 people and injured more than 500 others, the gun lobby did something different. It waited. But instead of pushing back against legislative proposals, it issued a statement on Thursday that seemed to open the door towards efforts to ban bump stocks, the devices used by the shooter in Las Vegas to allow semi-automatic weapons to fire like fully automatics.
But while many interpreted the NRA’s statement as a green light for legislators, others saw an alternative motive in the fine print.
Instead of encouraging Congress to act, the NRA instead said that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms should consider regulatory changes to bump stocks. The group did make a legislative push elsewhere, however. It called on lawmakers to pass a legislation that would force states to respect other state’s concealed carry laws.
“In an increasingly dangerous world, the NRA remains focused on our mission: strengthening Americans' Second Amendment freedom to defend themselves, their families and their communities,” President Wayne LaPierre and chief lobbyist Chris Cox said in a statement. “To that end, on behalf of our five million members across the country, we urge Congress to pass National Right-to-Carry reciprocity, which will allow law-abiding Americans to defend themselves and their families from acts of violence."
For individuals who have gone to war with the NRA in the past, the statement read like a master-class of misdirection. An organization built to promote gun ownership and gun rights wasn’t acquiescing to political pressures so much as trying to shape them in their favor.
“The NRA announcement is their class DDD strategy – deflect, delay, deal,” said Ron Klain, who worked with Vice President Joe Biden when he was attempting to craft gun control legislation in the wake of the shooting in Newtown. “They want to deflect Congressional action in the shadow of Las Vegas, delaying it with an ATF study that isn’t needed, and then dealing to get even more laxity in our gun laws in exchange for a ban on bump stocks. This is a moral test for Congress; there have been 250 mass shootings in America this year alone. No more deflecting, no more deals, and absolutely no deals with the NRA.”
Whether Congress takes the bait is another question entirely. Already, there is clear and growing support for addressing the issue of bump stocks. What “addressing” actually means, however, is not clear.
One of the most promising vehicles appears to have emerged in the House, where Reps. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) and Seth Moulton (D-MA) have put together bipartisan legislation. Their bill, a draft of which was sent to The Daily Beast, would “prohibit the possession or transfer of any part or combination of parts that is designed or functions to accelerate the rate of fire of a semiautomatic rifle but does not convert the semiautomatic rifle into a machine gun.”
But a Hill aide pointed out that the bill would run into problems for what it doesn’t include: namely an explicit ban on the importation or manufacturing of bump stocks and a carve out for the U.S. government to posses them.
Those issues are addressed in a bill proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). According to the Senator’s spokesman, her legislation currently has 38 total cosponsors. But all of them are Democrats.
One of the Republican senators who told The Daily Beast he was open to a future discussion on the devices was Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX). But Cornyn has dodged taking a specific stance on the matter. The Senator happens to be the chief driver behind national concealed carry legislation and his office declined to say whether he would try to pair the two issues in one bill.
President Trump, meanwhile, has remained reticent to publicly commit to any kind of action. On his trip to Las Vegas on Wednesday, he did have a discussion with another Republican member of Congress about gun policy and bump stocks in particular.
“I believe overall the discussion was about gun control generally, bump stocks came up, and I believe they also discussed the congressman’s trip to Vegas yesterday,” a staff member for Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV) told The Daily Beast.
If any effort does materialize, either from the Hill or the White House, it will face opposition from gun rights groups. The NRA may be comfortable with regulatory changes. But the more hard-lined organizations don’t yet feel the need to bend.
Gun Owners of America released a statement opposing any ban on bump stocks saying: "Gun Owners of America opposes a ban on bump stocks. Bump stocks were approved by the ATF during the Obama administration to help gun owners with disabilities fire their weapons. Any type of ban will be ignored by criminals and only serve to disarm honest citizens."
Others seemed to think the conversation around the devices would soon end.
“Two weeks from now, it probably won’t even be talked about,” Todd Underwood, the founder of United Gun Group, which became infamous for selling the gun George Zimmerman used to kill Trayvon Martin, told The Daily Beast. “Let North Korea do something next week and no one will talk about it again.”