The Las Vegas shooter exploited a gun law loophole

The gunman reportedly used a modifier to make his weapons even more deadly.

Credit: (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)
Credit: (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

At first, many concertgoers in Las Vegas late Sunday night thought the quick, staccato shots were just firecrackers.

That kind of rapid gunfire is usually attributed to automatic weapons, and while civilians are prohibited from owning them in the United States, experts say audio from the shooting indicates an automatic weapon was used to perpetrate the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

So how did the the shooter get his hands on a banned weapon? According to Las Vegas officials, he didn’t.

The Associated Press reported the gunman had two “bump stocks” with him, gun modifiers that allow a semi-automatic weapon to function in the same way as an automatic. Las Vegas officials haven’t yet confirmed whether the bump stocks were used to modify the weapons used in the shooting.

Semi-automatic weapons require one pulled trigger for each round. With a fully automatic weapon, however, only trigger pull can result in the discharge of continuous rounds until the magazine is empty. The shooter had 23 guns in his hotel room.

Bump stocks are seen as a loophole in the 30-year-old federal ban on automatic weapons, creating a technical hack for some to turn to their already dangerous semi-automatic weapons into even deadlier weapons.

Members of Congress like Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) have advocated for stricter legislation addressing these loopholes. After the Sandy Hook shooting in 2013, she introduced the Assault Weapons Ban of 2013, which sought to completely ban the sale, manufacture, or possession of semi-automatic weapons, including weapon features like pistol grips, folding stocks, and bump-fire stocks. A Baltimore County Police Chief testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about Feinstein’s proposed legislation and said these kinds of weapon features are “meant for the battlefield,” not the streets.

Ultimately, Feinstein’s legislation failed in the Senate by a vote of 40 to 60, with 15 Democrats voting no. Detractors of the bill like Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said the bill was a “slippery slope of compromising the 2nd Amendment.”

Despite the bill’s failure, numerous studies support Feinstein’s central argument that less assault weapons in the hands of civilians means less violence with an assault weapon. The Justice Department found that the use of assault weapons in crimes decreased 70 percent after a 10-year assault weapons ban was implemented in 1994, but climbed after it’s expiration in 2004.