Ex-Marine Bill Akins got a patent on the first “accelerator” in 2000. Federal officials have said it is legal, but many in Congress want to change that.
Two decades before a secretive gambler lugged an arsenal that included 12 “bump stocks” into a Las Vegas hotel room and opened fire on concertgoers, a 40-something ex-Marine was tinkering in his Florida garage, looking for a fresh take on an old idea. Inspired by footage of the heavy recoil of anti-aircraft guns, Bill Akins wondered if he could design a device to harness a semi-automatic rifle’s recoil to fire bullets at a frequency near that of an automatic weapon, the Associated Press reports. For decades, gun owners had been bracing guns against their hips to increase the rate of their trigger pulls and enjoy the thrill of shooting something like a machine gun, a technique known as “bump firing.”
In 1996, Akins built an attachment to two different rifle stocks that did the same. He received a patent in 2000 and began selling what was known as the Akins Accelerator. The story of his invention, says the AP, “is a window on an obscure, do-it-yourself industry that helped create part of the arsenal used by Stephen Paddock, a 64-year-old with no formal military training, to carry out the worst mass shooting in modern American history.” The fate of the Akins Accelerator also sheds light on the political furor over whether bump stocks should be banned. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has said it only has the power to ban devices that, like machine guns, cause multiple bullets to be fired when the trigger is pulled. The agency has found that current bump stocks on the market only speed the triggering of a gun rather than convert it to shoot multiple bullets per pull, and therefore are legal.
A close look at one gun-sales case raises questions of whether authorities are dismantling gun networks or effectively helping to set them up. “You’re going after someone and purposely trying to entice them into doing a felony,” says law prof. Katharine Tinto.
Amid Chicago’s ongoing epidemic of gun violence, with 494 fatal shootings and 2,866 people shot this year through September, the availability of guns has been blamed as a root cause and become a defining public safety issue. Chicago police say they’ve seized nearly 7,000 illegal firearms this year, and federal authorities have stepped up efforts to take down dealers, the Chicago Sun-Times reports, with ProPublica Illinois and WBEZ. Most of the guns police seize come from Indiana and other states where firearms laws are more lax, police and researchers have found. After they were purchased legally, most were sold, loaned or stolen. Typically, individuals or small groups are involved in the dealing, not organized trafficking rings, experts say. Unlike the drug trade — often dominated by powerful cartels or gangs — illegal gun markets operate more like the way teenagers get beer, “where every adult is potentially a source,” said Duke University criminologist Philip Cook, a researcher at the University of Chicago Crime Lab.
Under pressure to respond to the violence, law enforcement has focused on making examples of people caught selling, buying or possessing guns. Authorities acknowledge that these cases do little to stem the flow of guns into the city. An examination of one gun-sales case shows how authorities target mostly street-level offenders, sometimes enticing them with outsize payoffs. Critics say their techniques raise questions of whether they are dismantling gun networks or effectively helping to set them up. “You have this specter of whether it’s creating crime, which is troubling to a lot of people,” said law Prof. Katharine Tinto of the University of California Irvine, who has studied the investigative tactics of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. “It’s not as if you’re trying to get someone you know is a violent gun offender. You’re going after someone and purposely trying to entice them into doing a felony.”
The National Rifle Association says the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives can ban the device that accelerated gunfire in the Las Vegas massacre by regulation. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) insists that Congress should take action.
The National Rifle Association ventured into unfamiliar territory last week when it endorsed new restrictions on a “bump stock” that accelerated gunfire in the Las Vegas massacre. NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre said Sunday that the NRA may oppose writing those restrictions into law, the Washington Post reports. LaPierre said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives should review the matter. “I think you want to tell ATF to do its job. It’s an interpretive issue, and they need to get the job done,” he said. Las Vegas shooter fitted bump stocks on at least a dozen of the 23 firearms in his hotel room. The accessories helped him fire semiautomatic weapons with a rapidity approaching that of a fully automatic gun. His assault from the 32nd floor window of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino left 58 dead and hundreds injured in minutes.
Lawmakers from both parties endorsed tighter controls on bump stocks. The NRA and some in Congress think the issue can be addressed without legislation if ATF reversed rulings made during the Obama administration that confirmed the devices were legal. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said no Republicans have signed on as co-sponsors to a bill she is proposing that would ban the sale, transfer and manufacture of bump stocks, trigger cranks and other accessories that can accelerate a semiautomatic rifle’s rate of fire. “Regulations aren’t going to do it. We need a law,” Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said on “Face the Nation.” “It can’t be changed by another president. Right now we’re seeing one president change actions of a president that came before him. And that would happen in this area. And I would hope that Americans will step up and say ‘Enough is enough. Congress, do something.’ ”
Gun control supporters are gaining, says Dan Gross, former president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. He mentions expanded background checks for guy buyers in several states and the failure of Congress to pass the “big prize” of allowing people with permits to carry guns in one state the right to do so nationwide.
Some U.S. leaders who were beholden to the “corporate gun lobby” are changing their point of view, Dan Gross of the Center to Prevent Youth Violence, former president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, tells NPR switch their point of view. Laws that the gun lobby was assuming would be passed after President Trump was elected haven’t gone anywhere, particularly one giving anyone who has a permit to carry a gun in one state the right to carry that gun in another state. Gross says, “It’s incredibly dangerous. It’s the big prize that the gun lobbies thought they were going to get.”
On the state level, since the massacre of students in Newtown, Ct., in 2012, Nevada voters expanded background checks to all gun sales. In California, a series of laws passed that included expanding background checks to include ammunition. Washington state created the opportunity to take guns away from domestic abusers. Gross concludes that “there has continued to be state-by-state progress versus the progress that the corporate gun lobby has made to weaken the restrictions that do that … we’ve continued to shift the balance.”
The National Rifle Association unexpectedly supported restrictions on the device used by Las Vegas gunman Stephen Paddock to allow rapid gunfire discharge. Still, it was not clear that congressional Republicans would take action.
The National Rifle Association unexpectedly joined an effort to restrict a device used to accelerate gunfire in the Las Vegas massacre, the Washington Post reports. The NRA’s announcement gave political cover to a growing number of Republicans who have indicated a willingness to consider regulating “bump stocks,” devices that allow a legal semiautomatic rifle to mimic the rapid discharge of a fully automatic weapon. “The NRA believes that devices designed to allow semi-automatic rifles to function like fully-automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations,” the groups said. Law enforcement officials have said that Las Vegas gunman Stephen Paddock fired weapons outfitted with bump stocks Sunday, leaving 58 dead and hundreds injured in a matter of minutes. Experts have said that audio of the attack makes clear that the shooter unleashed a torrent of bullets faster than he could have fired without adapting his rifles.
As the largest U.S. gun rights group, the NRA exerts considerable influence among conservative voters who support the organization, and on the GOP’s approach to gun policy. Many Republicans have operated under the fear that opposing NRA positions could lead to primary challenges. Public opinion is also on the minds of Republicans as they head into a midterm election year that is expected to be contentious. Regulating bump stocks could help the party combat perceptions that it has done nothing to address the mass shootings. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said of the massacre, “Americans are horrified by it. They’re horrified, and they should be.” Even after the group’s announcement Thursday, only a handful of Republicans had stepped forward to consider examining bump stocks. NRA CEO Wayne La Pierre opposed further gun controls, telling Fox News that, “If legislation worked, Boston massacre wouldn’t have worked, San Bernardino, where California has every gun law on the books, that wouldn’t have happened.”
“There are 350 million guns out there, and we can’t take them back,” said the former New York City and Los Angeles police chief he said. “We can improve registration. We can have a better handle on who has these guns. In terms of gun control, so much more could be done.”
Former New York City and Los Angeles police chief Bill Bratton happened to be in Las Vegas doing security reviews for casinos the day after Sunday’s massacre. The Boston Globe asked Bratton to comment on the event. While he is critical of Congress, saying too many there are beholden to the National Rifle Association and gun manufacturers, he said it is too easy to lay the blame solely at the foot of Capitol Hill. The Globe says Bratton is surprisingly lukewarm on the need to restore the assault rifle ban, which expired in 2004. He said the ban was largely symbolic, and that manufacturers were able to circumvent it by making slight modifications.
“We have to focus on people,” Bratton said, “and I hate to say that, because it plays into the NRA position. But there’s nothing you can do about the stranglehold that the NRA and the gun industry has on Congress. Here in the Northeast, we are for the most part not part of a gun culture; we don’t see that.” Bratton said the sad reality is that we are a nation with more guns than people. “There are 350 million guns out there, and we can’t take them back,” he said. “We can improve registration. We can have a better handle on who has these guns. In terms of gun control, so much more could be done.” Given the political reality in Congress, he thinks it’s imperative that state and local governments forge ahead with locally tailored efforts. “With assault weapons, certain cities didn’t have problems. New York didn’t have problems, but Los Angeles and Atlanta did. That’s why I’ve spent time on laws at the local level, focusing on those who use the guns and sell the guns,” he said.
Congressional Republicans long have resisted any limits on guns but they may back a ban on the devices that turn semiautomatic weapons into guns capable of firing long deadly bursts. Stephen Paddock used them in Las Vegas to kill 58 people this week.
Top congressional Republicans, who long have resisted legislative limits on guns, have signaled that they would be open to banning the firearm accessory that the Las Vegas gunman used to transform his rifles to mimic automatic weapon fire, the New York Times reports. For a generation, Republicans, often joined by conservative Democrats, have bottled up gun legislation. A decade ago, they blocked efforts to limit the size of magazines after the massacre at Virginia Tech. Five years later, Republican leaders thwarted bipartisan legislation to expand background checks of gun purchasers after the mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Ct. Last year, after the Orlando nightclub massacre, they blocked legislation to stop gun sales to buyers on terrorism watch lists.
In this week’s Las Vegas massacre, legislators in both parties may have found part of the weapons trade that few could support: gun conversion kits called “bump stocks” that turn semiautomatic weapons into firearms capable of firing in long, deadly bursts. “I own a lot of guns, and as a hunter and sportsman, I think that’s our right as Americans, but I don’t understand the use of this bump stock,” said Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican. Cornyn said the legality of the conversion kits was “a legitimate question” and has asked Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, the Judiciary Committee chairman, to convene a hearing on that issue and any others that arise out of the Las Vegas investigation. Other Republicans, including Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Orrin Hatch of Utah and Marco Rubio of Florida, said they would be open to legislation on bump stocks. The National Rifle Association, which has poured tens of millions of dollars into Republican campaign coffers, remained mum and could stop a ban cold.
Washington, D.C., Attorney General Karl Racine will not appeal a court order blocking enforcement of the city’s restrictions on the carrying of concealed guns in public to the Supreme Court. That sets the stage for what could be a marked increase in firearms on the streets of the nation’s capital.
Washington, D.C., Attorney General Karl Racine will not appeal a court order blocking enforcement of the city’s restrictions on the carrying of concealed guns in public to the Supreme Court, setting the stage for what could be a marked increase in firearms on the streets of the nation’s capital. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit is expected to issue an order as soon as today enforcing its recent ruling that struck down the city’s requirement that people seeking licenses to carry concealed weapons must demonstrate a “good reason” — such as a credible fear of violence — for carrying a gun in public, the Washington Post reports.
It means permit-seekers could begin applying to carry concealed weapons as soon as today. It is not clear whether city officials will attempt to rewrite the law to enforce additional permit restrictions beyond the requirements — for a background check and firearms training — that the appeals court left intact. Many gun-control advocates argued D.C. should not appeal because of the risk that an unfavorable Supreme Court ruling could strike down concealed-carry regulations across the country in states such as California, New Yorke, Maryland, Massachusetts, Hawaii, New Jersey and Connecticut.
A two-decade-long congressional ban on most federal research on gun violence means that there is much less research on guns than on equally-deadly diseases and accidents. In one recent decade there were 100,000 papers published on liver disease and just over 1,000 on firearms violence.
In 1996, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stopped funding gun violence research as a result of the National Rifle Association-backed Dickey Amendment, which prohibits the agency from using federal funds in ways that could be construed to “advocate or promote gun control.” The chilling effects of that amendment, which has been reauthorized by Congress every year since then, are laid bare in a pair of charts published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, the Washington Post reports. Looking at the mortality rate for the top 30 causes of death in the U.S. vs. the amount of federal dollars available to do research into those causes, gun violence stands out because it has a relatively high mortality rate, coupled with rock-bottom federal funding compared with other, equally deadly conditions such as sepsis, liver disease and motor vehicle accidents.
“Gun violence killed about as many individuals as sepsis,” authors David Stark and Nigam Shah note. “However, funding for gun violence research was about 0.7 percent of that for sepsis.” Not 70 percent, not 7 percent — 0.7 percent. That lack of funding translates directly into less research on how to prevent or mitigate gun violence. In a second chart, showing the volume of papers published for each of the 30 causes of death, again, gun violence stands well apart from most of the others. Gun violence kills about as many people each year as liver disease. Between 2004 and 2015, there were more than 100,000 papers published on the latter topic and just over 1,000 published on the former. “In relation to mortality rates, gun violence research was the least-researched cause of death and the second-least funded cause of death after falls,” Stark and Shah write. While some research has proceeded over the past 20 years, the Post says our knowledge of the issue is woefully incomplete relative to what it could have been had Congress allowed federal gun research to continue unimpeded.
After the Orlando mass shooting, Democrats held a sit-in in the House over gun control. Now, there’s a growing sense of futility in the debate. Gun control was a lost cause even under divided government, let alone when Republicans control both chambers of Congress and the White House.
House Democrats will gather on the Capitol steps Wednesday morning to honor victims of the Las Vegas shooting and criticize GOP inaction. They will be led by Rep. John Lewis of Georgia and former Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was nearly killed in a mass shooting in 2011, Politico reports. The last record-setting shooting spree on U.S. soil — at a nightclub in Orlando last year — prompted Democrats to occupy the House floor for a full day in protest of the GOP’s refusal to take up new gun control laws. This time, the minority party is using tamer tactics, tamping down talks of another sit-in and demanding that Republicans drop a gun silencer bill they’ve been pushing.
The difference in approach speaks to the tricky, shifting politics of guns for Democrats. It’s easy for them to lambaste Republicans for failing to take action after mass shootings. Elevating the issue heading into a midterm election next year — something Democrats have no plans to do — could repel the very voters they need to woo to regain control of Congress and make their vulnerable red-state Democrats prime for Republican attacks. There’s also a growing sense of futility in the debate. Gun control was a lost cause even under divided government, let alone when Republicans control both chambers of Congress and the White House. So Democrats are setting their sights lower.