Stephen Paddock, the 64-year-old man who killed 58 people and injured nearly 500 others on Sunday, bought 33 guns in the last 12 months, according to officials. But because they were long guns, not handguns, no red flags were ever raised.
The Gun Control Act of 1968 includes a provision that requires gun sellers to notify the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms of the purchase of multiple handguns in a short period of time (say, for instance, 33 in 12 months). In the four states that border Mexico, the purchase of multiple long guns will trigger an ATF notification, but outside of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, there is no notification process for long guns.
David Chipman, a former ATF agent who currently works as a senior policy adviser for Americans for Responsible Solutions, said the discrepancy is, in part, due to the culture of long guns when the law was passed in 1986. At the time, long guns were mainly used by hunters, while the purchase of multiple handguns was often a sign of firearms trafficking.
“It’s a great way to disrupt handgun trafficking,” Chipman said, “but it sets up this insane gap in the law… This is just another thing where our gun laws have not followed the technology.”
Today, the law functionally means that someone like Paddock can buy dozens of military-grade assault rifles in a short amount of time and the purchases will not be flagged for federal authorities.
“If I’m a terrorist… I go into a store and by 20 AK-47s and no one finds out,” Chipman said. “The outcomes of this are just particularly deadly.”
And while those purchases would be flagged in the four border states, that won’t last for long if Republicans in Congress have anything to say about it.
The reporting rule went into effect in 2011, and in the eight months that followed, ATF initiated more than 120 investigations and recommended charges against more than 100 defendants for trafficking, according to the Center for Public Integrity.
But a rider on a bill approved by the Appropriations Committee this past July would prohibit ATF from using any funding to enforce the law that requires the border states to report the sale of multiple long guns.
“None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to require a person [licensed by the ATF to sell firearms]…to report information to the Department of Justice regarding the sale of multiple rifles or shotguns to the same person,” the rider says.
For his part, Chipman is baffled by the proposal.
“Why would we not require multiple sales forms for all guns?” he asked. “These are weapons of war.”