The gadget that transformed a Las Vegas terrorist’s semiautomatic rifles into machine gun-style weapons is under criticism, but Montana’s congressional delegation isn’t ready to ban the device — at least not yet.
The aftermarket devices known as “bump stocks” are in the sights of some congressional leaders who say the products should be restricted, if not banned. The National Rifle Association indicated Thursday that it, too, thought bump stocks should be subject to additional regulation.
Montana Sens. Jon Tester, a Democrat, and Steve Daines, a Republican, said hearings on bump stocks were in order. They stopped short of saying they would support a ban. Republican Greg Gianforte, the state’s only U.S. representative, opposes further gun regulations.
“I’ve owned guns all my life and made a living with one," Tester said. "I never knew that bump stocks existed until after the Las Vegas massacre. In the limited time I have had to review them, bump stocks don’t appear to have a use other than to make it easier to kill people, but I want to get more information. I think we should hold a hearing on the issue so we can hear from firearms experts, disability advocates and law enforcement.”
Bump stocks harness the kick of an assault-style semiautomatic rifle’s recoil to propel the weapon’s trigger to be pulled repeatedly at a much faster pace than a human can physically fire a rifle. The device replaces the rifle’s factory stock, or butt.
Of Montana's delegation, none of the three said they’d ever fired a weapon with a modified butt stock.
All three have trotted out their gun bona fides during election campaigns. Gianforte’s spring special election ads featured the candidate blasting a television depicting negative advertising. His Twitter account is stocked with photos of cooked wild game and hunting trips. At a fundraiser while running for governor in 2016, Gianforte launched golf balls using an assault rifle-style ball launcher.
Daines made hunting a feature of his campaigns in 2014 and 2012 and also his messaging on preserving gun rights under the Second Amendment.
After the 2012 mass shooting of schoolchildren in Newtown, Connecticut, Tester voted for a 2013 bill sponsored by Sens. Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey to require background checks for gun purchases. Then-Sen. Max Baucus voted against the bill, which died.
In 2016, Montana's Senate delegation split on gun control after the Orlando nightclub massacre. Tester advocated for increased background checks while Daines argued the focus needed to be on combating radical Islam and ISIS, not on the Second Amendment.
All three elected officials sport NRA “A” ratings, considered a must-have to avoid damaging NRA political ads and the wrath of gun voters. Going against the NRA on gun regulations is a sure path to being targeted by one of the nation’s most powerful lobbying groups.
Daines echoed the support for hearings, but said the issue in Las Vegas is “deranged shooter” Stephen Paddock, not bump stocks. Paddock committed the largest mass shooting in U.S. history Sunday night when he opened fire on a street concert from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Casino. The terrorist act left 59 dead, including the gunman, and wounded more than 500.
“Mr. Paddock was a deranged individual who was very methodical about what he did," Daines said. "He planned it very carefully. We do have information that he may have been looking at another outdoor music event a couple weeks earlier. We found explosives in the trunk of his vehicle."
So Daines raised the question: Would a law outlawing bump stocks have prevented this tragedy?
"And history shows us that more gun laws do not make our society safer," Daines said. "The issue is a deranged individual who is going to wreak havoc and unleash the carnage he unleashed most likely regardless of what laws we have in place.”
Daines said bump stocks convert semiautomatic weapons to automatic weapons. Because federal law bans automatic weapons, it’s worth a congressional discussion about bump stocks.
“I’m hoping we will come up with policies and laws that focus on some of the root cause here," he said. "We had a deranged individual, and this guy was going to find a way to inflict damage — murder most likely — no matter what happened.”
Gianforte also said stricter gun laws wouldn’t have prevented the Vegas shooting.
“I look forward to law enforcement concluding its investigation so that we can assess how best to prevent this from happening again," he said. "The perpetrator was an evil, deranged individual who was determined to senselessly attack as large a group as possible, and stricter laws against guns would not have prevented this."
Gianforte didn’t say whether there was a legitimate civilian use for weapons that behave more like fully-automatic rifles, while Daines noted that automatic weapons are illegal.
Tester said he didn’t see a point to the private ownership of automatic weapons.
“I do not personally have any interest in firing these types of weapons, and I don’t currently understand why anyone else would either,” Tester said.