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US gun lobby falls in line after Las Vegas shooting, backs ban on rapid-fire device

The National Rifle Association has asked the US government to review the sale of “bump-stock” devices that allow non-automatic firearms to function like automatics.

world Updated: Oct 06, 2017 16:42 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
National Rifle Association,Las Vegas shooting,Stephen Paddock
People attend a candlelight memorial for Las Vegas police officer Charleston Hartfield in Las Vegas on October 5, 2017. Hartfield was killed when Stephen Paddock began firing with a cache of weapons at a country music festival. (AP)

The National Rifle Association, which spearheads America’s powerful gun lobby that has blocked all attempts to tighten gun laws for decades, has relented in the wake of the Las Vegas massacre and asked the government to review the sale of devices that allow weapons to shoot rapidly.

NRA’s announcement came a day after many Republican lawmakers joined their Democratic colleagues to call for a ban on “bump-stock” devices that allow non-automatic firearms to function like automatics. Some Republicans also conceded, in an equally significant shift for them, that there is a need to take a look at the devices and consider regulating them.

It was a big step for the NRA, which has successfully blocked any attempt to change the country’s infamously slack gun laws and that many believe are at the root of mass shootings (any incident in which four or more people are shot, dead or wounded). There have been 343 mass shooting this year, including six since the killing of 59 people in Las Vegas on October 1.

“The NRA believes that devices designed to allow semi-automatic rifles to function like fully automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations,” the NRA said in a statement, which was greeted around the US as a small but significant shift in the powerful organisation’s position on gun reforms.

Bump-stocks replace the standard wooden stock of a rifle on which a shooter rests a shoulder at the time of firing. Instead of absorbing the recoil, the bump-stock lets the rifle fire more rapidly than it was designed to, turning it into an automatic weapon, which is subject to stricter regulations.

They have been reviewed and cleared for sale twice by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (known as ATF), the federal regulator. But the NRA said it was calling to “immediately review whether these devices comply with federal law”.

Twelve of the 23 firearms used by Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock, 64, were equipped with these devices that enabled him to shower countless rounds for 10 deadly minutes on unsuspecting concertgoers 400 yards below his 32nd floor room in an upscale hotel.

Investigators, now led by the FBI, still don’t have a lead on the killer’s motives, and his girlfriend Marilou Danley and his relatives, including younger brother Eric Paddock, who has been an enthusiastic commentator for reporters, haven’t been much help either, beset by the same sense of bafflement.

The NRA’s announcement will not change that, but it brought new hope to gun reform advocates who had given up on the organisation as an unscalable wall sitting between them and change, commonsense reforms such as background checks of prospective buyers and regulating sales at fairs and exhibitions.

But sceptics also cautioned against piling up expectations on this one solitary reconciliatory move by the NRA.

First Published: Oct 06, 2017 15:39 IST