The next fight in the gun debate isn’t over what to do, but who should do it.
Capitol Hill Republicans have opened the door to regulating bump fire stocks, gun accessories that can convert semi-automatic weapons into firing similarly to automatic ones, but the scope of those changes, the timing and who ultimately will make them is still a major question on Capitol Hill.
After the deadliest shooting in modern American history, Republican leaders have signaled some openness to at least looking into narrowly addressing the country’s existing gun laws. The Senate’s No. 2 Republican Sen. John Cornyn told reporters he wanted to see a hearing when the Las Vegas shooting investigation concluded.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, an avid outdoorsman and hunter, told reporters Thursday that bump stocks were something that the country should consider taking a look at.
“We all have to get more educated as to what these are, how it — how they became available in the first place. Was it a regulatory misstep by ATF some number of years ago? And we all know and believe that fully auto weapons are illegal, and so is this a big gap that needs to be closed, and if so how to close it. That’s — we’re all just beginning to go through that analysis,” he said.
But a congressional gun debate is far from something that Republicans could tackle easily right now. The GOP’s focus is on tax reform, the next best chance for the party to deliver on President Donald Trump’s legislative priorities after failing to repeal and replace Obamacare. Floor time is limited and seriously considering any gun bill — even one as specific as legislation on firearm accessories — could unleash a lengthy, politically fraught battle with Democrats and Republicans retreating to their respective corners.
On Thursday, the National Rifle Association wrote in a statement that it was open to considering amending current law surrounding bump stocks, but the powerful lobby suggested that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives could likely handle it through administrative changes rather than legislative means.
“The NRA believes that devices intended to allow semi-automatic rifles to function like fully automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations,” Wayne LaPierre and Chris Cox, the group’s top two leaders, said in the statement.
Across the Hill, several senior GOP sources — keenly aware of the tight calendar and risk associated with a gun vote — are also viewing changes at through ATF as the best way forward.
During an appearance on MSNBC, House Republican Whip Steve Scalise said that the ATF might be the appropriate route.
“There are people that want to rush to judgment. They’ve got a bill written already. And I mean, look, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi already said she wants it to be a slippery slope. She doesn’t want to stop at bump stocks. They want to go out and limit the rights of gun owners,” Scalise said. “And so I do think it’s a little bit early for people to say they know what to do to fix this problem. I know there are people that are asking the ATF to go back and review their 2010 decision to authorize it.”
There is already movement on legislation. In the House, Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo is preparing his own bill to regulate bump fire stocks, a plan he said Thursday his Republican colleagues were eager to join in on. Earlier this week, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, unveiled her own bill to ban bump stocks.
And, Feinstein released her own statement arguing that Congress needed to weigh in on bump stocks.
“Federal regulations won’t be able to fully close this loophole. As far as we know, the Las Vegas shooter passed background checks and legally purchased his weapons. That means merely regulating bump stocks wouldn’t have necessarily prevented the gunman from outfitting his weapons as he did,” Feinstein said in her statement. “Legislation would make crystal clear that Congress is banning all devices that allow a weapon to achieve an automatic rate of fire, regardless of how a weapon is altered. Such legislation can and will save lives, and Congress should act immediately.”