New gun safety bill is so undeniably sensible even some Republicans may support it

It would outlaw gun modification that allowed the Las Vegas shooter to kill 59 people in seconds.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., speaks to reporters as she arrives at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., speaks to reporters as she arrives at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), along with more than 20 high-profile Democratic co-sponsors, introduced a bill Wednesday that would outlaw modifications known as “bump stocks” that can be used to modify semi-automatic weapons to fire at the rate an automatic weapon would.

The legislation comes in the wake of Sunday’s shooting in Las Vegas that left 59 people dead, including the attacker, 64-year-old Stephen Paddock, and more than 500 injured. Officials say they found bump stock modifications on Paddock’s guns.

Feinstein held a press conference Wednesday to discuss her bill, where she told reporters her daughter had planned to go to the concert and stay at Mandalay Bay.

Automatic weapons were made illegal in 1986, although the transfer of those made before 1986 is still legal.

A typical semi-automatic rifle fires at the rate of 45 to 60 rounds per minute, but the bump stocks that Feinstein aims to ban can essentially modify a semi-automatic weapon so function like an automatic weapon, firing up to 800 rounds per minute, according to Feinstein’s office.

“The only reason to fire so many rounds so fast is to kill large numbers of people,” Feinstein said in a statement. “No one should be able to easily and cheaply modify legal weapons into what are essentially machine guns.”

The senator’s bill would ban the sale, transfer, import, manufacture, or possess of bump stocks, trigger cranks, and other modifications that can increase a semi-automatic weapon’s firing rate.

“An American concert venue has now become a battlefield. We must stop this now,” Feinstein said.

A release from Feinstein’s office says “legitimate accessories used by hunters” would be exempt from the law but does not offer specifics.

Feinstein’s co-sponsors are all Democrats — aside from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) — and include Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), as well as a number of other party stars, including Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kamala Harris (D-CA), and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).

In an interview with ThinkProgress, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), said he’s talked to Republicans who are privately sympathetic.

“I wish this were about the policy and not the politics but Republicans certainly feel pressure to respond to episodes of mass violence,” Murphy said. “We have been able to increase Republican support for anti-gun violence measures pretty consistently since Sandy Hook but we’ve never gotten to that magic 60. The fact that we’ve been able to expand our vote counts speaks to the fact that Republicans feel some political pressure back home to do something other than be silent.”

But, Murphy noted, the gun lobby, particularly the National Rifle Association, has followed it practice of keeping quiet following incidents like the one in Las Vegas Sunday.

“The gun lobby has remained quiet, which is their practice,” he said. “But they will soon start unleashing fire and brimstone alerting their supporters of their continued absolutist position. So you Republicans’ cold feet may come only when the gun lobby starts to scream and yell at them.”

At least least one Republican has opened the door to supporting a bill like Feinstein’s.

On MSNBC Wednesday morning, Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) said there is “no question” Congress should look into bump stocks.

“When I saw the clips and heard the fire, I just assumed he had an automatic weapon,” Cole said. “I did not know that there was technology capable that cheaply of transforming a semi-automatic into an automatic weapon. Yeah, I don’t think there’s any question we ought to look at that.”

Notably, Cole took $5,000 in campaign donations from the NRA during the last election cycle, something Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL) called out at another press conference Wednesday morning.

“‘Thoughts and prayers’ while they head to the bank to cash their NRA check,” she said on the Capitol steps. “Something has got to change.”

UPDATE: Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) said Wednesday afternoon that Congress should hold hearings to examine whether bump stocks should be banned.

Additional reporting by Kira Lerner and Joshua Eaton.