Firearm dealers expect a run on “bump stocks,” rapid-fire adaptions for rifles that had been gathering dust on store shelves until political talk of a ban began because the devices were used in the Las Vegas massacre.
Staudt’s Gun Shop in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, has had two bump stocks sitting on the shelf for more than a year.
“They are literally covered in dust. No one ever touched them. No one ever asked about them,” said a salesman at the shop. “But they’re probably not going to be there long now.”
Bans of firearms or just talk of banning firearms have often sent Americans scrambling to get their hands on guns before it’s too late. The same impulse was anticipated for bump stocks, also known as bump fire stocks, which use the recoil of a semi-automatic rifle to fire multiple shots, producing a fire rate similar to what fully automatic machine guns achieve.
Talk of a ban began as soon as investigators disclosed that bump stocks had been found in the 32nd-floor hotel room of Stephen Craig Paddock, who killed at least 58 people and wounded more than 500 by raining down bursts of rapid fire onto a crowd at a country music festival Sunday on the Las Vegas Strip.
Investigators found 12 bump stocks along with 23 guns, including AK-47- and AR-15-style rifles, in Paddock’s room at the Mandalay Bay hotel and casino.
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Paddock purchased all of the guns legally, authorities said.
Firearms dealers described the bump stock as a “novelty item” and gave several reasons why it is not a top seller.
Bump stocks are relatively expensive, costing about $300 each.
They also are expensive to use. A bump stock can enable a rifle to fire 400 to 800 rounds per minute. At 32 cents per round, that is $128 to $256 per minute in ammunition.
Regardless, the novelty is about to get more attractive.
“It’s human nature. If you tell someone, ‘You can’t have something,’ they want it more,” said Mark Warner, a salesman at Blue Ridge Arsenal in Chantilly, Virginia. “Once the word is put out that they want to ban them, there will be a run.”
The gun shop has had three bump stocks on the shelf for about four years and has not sold one of them, he said.
Mr. Warner, an avid shooter, said he was saddened by the killings in Las Vegas but disagreed with calls for banning bump stocks or other new gun control laws.
“It’s just for the enjoyment of shooting,” said Mr. Warner, who owns a couple of bump stocks and enjoys shooting up stumps and targets with rapid-fire action. “It was designed for a shooting sport.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced the first bill Wednesday to outlaw bump stocks and other devices for rapid fire of semi-automatic weapons.
“The only reason to fire so many rounds so fast is to kill large numbers of people. No one should be able to easily and cheaply modify legal weapons into what are essentially machine guns,” she said.
The bill, dubbed the Automatic Gun Fire Prevention Act, had 24 co-sponsors from the Senate Democratic Conference, including Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York and former Democratic presidential candidate Bernard Sanders of Vermont.
The bill would ban any adaption that increases a legal weapon’s rate of fire.
In addition to bump stocks, the legislation specifically mentions “trigger cranks.” That device bolts to a rifle’s trigger guard and rapidly pulls the trigger when the shooter turns the crank. Each costs as little as $40.
Republican lawmakers generally have resisted new gun-control measures, but that may be changing — on this narrow issue anyway.
A spokeswomen for Rep. Carlos Curbelo, Florida Republican, told reporters that her boss plans to introduce a bipartisan bill this week to ban such devices.
Expressions of support for bans on bump stocks and trigger cranks came Wednesday from conservative stalwarts such as Sen. Ron Johnson, Wisconsin Republican and Senate Homeland Security Committee chairman, and Rep. Bill Flores, Texas Republican and a former chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee.
“The fact that fully automatic weapons are already illegal and this makes another weapon capable [of automatic fire], I would be supportive of that,” Mr. Johnson said.
Mr. Flores told The Hill: “I think they should be banned. There’s no reason for a typical gun owner to own anything that converts a semi-automatic to something that behaves like an automatic.”
President Trump said talks about gun laws should wait until later. As he visited victims and first responders in Las Vegas, the president avoided discussing gun control issues and instead focused on healing.
“In the months ahead, we will all have to wrestle with the horror of what happened this week,” he said at the Las Vegas police command center. “We will overcome together as Americans.”
The shock of the rapid-fire attack, the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, had some Republicans contemplating a ban on bump stocks.
“Until yesterday, I had never heard of the device. It’s certainly something that should be looked at,” said Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican. “As to whether it should be banned, right now my first instinct is to say ‘yes,’ but I would have to look at it.”
However, he added that it was doubtful any gun control bills would get a vote in the Republican-run Congress.
⦁ Alex Swoyer contributed to this report.