Two weeks ago, the United States suffered its deadliest mass shooting in modern history. The scene in Las Vegas was nightmarish, with dozens killed and hundreds wounded, all as a result of an attack launched by one gunman.
In the immediate aftermath, in response to public clamoring for some kind of action, policymakers raised the prospect of action on “bump stocks” – an after-market modification that helps semi-automatic weapons, which are legal, fire like automatic weapons, which are already largely banned. A bipartisan bill was introduced on Capitol Hill, and even some Republicans suggested publicly that action on this issue was at least possible.
But as the horror of Las Vegas has faded from front pages, the bump-stock debate has shifted. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said last week that Congress would probably look to the Trump administration to deal with the issue, suggesting legislative progress is unlikely. The Washington Post reported:
Instead, Ryan and many of his fellow House Republicans hope the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) will act administratively to outlaw the devices, which the agency ruled legal in 2010.
“We think the regulatory fix is the smartest, quickest fix, and then, frankly, we’d like to know how it happened in the first place,” Ryan (Wis.) told reporters Wednesday. He did not discuss pursuing legislation to address the issue.
Ryan made his remarks a day after 20 bipartisan House members backed a bill to ban bump stocks and similar devices meant to accelerate the firing rate of semiautomatic rifles.
In other words, despite support for a legislative fix, Ryan is prepared to wait for a regulatory fix through the ATF. Those looking for action should turn to Trump administration officials, not elected Republican lawmakers.
Perhaps the most amazing quote came from the chairman of the House’s Second Amendment Caucus.
“It’s the height of irony if we don’t repeal Obamacare, we don’t cut taxes, but we do implement more gun control,” Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) told the Post. “That’s a perversion of the GOP agenda, and I think my colleagues recognize that, which is why they’re hoping the ATF will do it.”
Oh. So, Congress could act, and a new law might have a positive impact, but this would be “a perversion of the GOP agenda” – which is to say, taking legislative action in the hopes of saving lives would be off-brand for the Republican Party in 2017.
As for whether ATF is likely to take regulatory action, the agency has so far been silent on the matter. My advice to those looking for major changes on the issue: keep expectations low.