Washington — A senior Democratic senator with a long history on the issue of guns is pushing for a ban on devices like the Las Vegas shooter used to effectively convert semi-automatic rifles into fully automatic weapons.
California Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Wednesday pleaded with the public to pressure Congress to consider her legislation after the horrific violence earlier this week when a gunman killed 59 people and injured hundreds at an outdoor concert.
“Mr. and Mrs. America, you have to stand up, you have to say ‘enough is enough,’” Feinstein said. “Why can’t we keep a weapon from becoming a military-grade weapon?”
The devices, known as “bump stocks” among other names, are legal and originally intended to help people with limited hand mobility fire a semi-automatic without the individual trigger pulls required. They can fit over the rear shoulder-stock assembly on an automatic rifle and with applied pressure can fire continuously, increasing the rate from between 45 and 60 rounds per minute to between 400 and 800 rounds per minute, according to Feinstein’s office.
Feinstein said at a news conference that her own daughter had been making plans to attend the Route 91 music festival in Las Vegas where the slaughter occurred, but ended up not going.
The No. 2 Republican in the Senate, John Cornyn of Texas, said he is open to Feinstein’s bill and it deserves a hearing. He said it raises “an obvious area that we ought to explore.”
Feinstein, who became mayor of San Francisco early in her career after her predecessor was gunned down, authored an assault weapons ban that was in effect for 10 years before expiring in 2004. She said she had been considering trying to reintroduce that more sweeping legislation, as she’s done unsuccessfully in the past, but that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer urged her to go with a narrower bill that might be likelier to draw support.
Even so, asked earlier this week about “bump stocks” and whether they should be legal, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said it was not an appropriate time to be discussing legislation.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., made similar comments Wednesday in a radio interview on WISN in Milwaukee.
“What I don’t think you want your government to do is to lurch toward reactions before even having all the facts,” Ryan said. “Bad people are going to do bad things.”
House Democrats also began the day by pushing for action on guns, with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi accusing Republicans at a news conference of being “a wholly-owned subsidiary of the National Rifle Association and Gun Owners of America” as she and other Democrats bemoaned the lack of action by the GOP majority to address gun violence.
Former Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was grievously wounded in a 2011 shooting, urged lawmakers to “be bold, be courageous. The nation is counting on you.”
Yet there were signs that Democrats were ratcheting back their response compared with the past. Last year, after a mass shooting at a nightclub in Orlando, House Democrats commandeered the floor of the House for a sit-in that lasted into the night to protest GOP inaction on the issue. The tactic drew headlines but did not produce legislative results, and there appeared to be no plans for a repeat.
Meanwhile, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a moderate Democrat who has co-sponsored background check legislation in the past with GOP Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, said he planned to meet with Toomey to discuss revisiting their bill.
But Manchin said he would not reintroduce it without significant GOP support, which he said could only happen if President Donald Trump got involved.
He said he would want the support of at least 10 or so Republicans, and “that ain’t going to happen unless the president gives his stamp of approval.”
Manchin is up for re-election next year in a state Trump won overwhelmingly but denied that personal political considerations played a role in his reluctance.
The Senate has twice rejected the Manchin-Toomey background check bill, and Manchin said he doesn’t want that to happen again.
“I am who I am and I’ve been the same person for 35 years; in cycle, out of cycle means not a bit of difference to me,” Manchin said. “I want to make sure I can pass it. You want me to just drop a marker for the sake of making you all happy?”
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