Congress is responding to our autumn of slaughter mostly by doing nothing, or even pushing to relax our already laid-back gun laws. A group of local lawmakers has a different idea in Olympia.
Remember after Las Vegas, the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, when most everyone seemed to agree we ought to at least ban the “bump-stock” devices that effectively convert rifles into machine guns?
As anyone familiar with our pattern of shrugging about mass shootings could have guessed, it hasn’t happened.
In fact on Cyber Monday, the company that popularized bump stocks, Slide Fire of Texas, kicked off an online midnight “doorbuster” sale for the devices. The aftermarket price has surged, from about $100 before the Vegas shooting to $200-$400 now.
“Get your bump stock before they are banned,” reads a typical ad Tuesday on Armslist, the online gun version of Craigslist.
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The only thing that’s happened is the U.S. Department of Justice announced it is reviewing whether it has authority over the devices. Previously, in 2010, the government found it did not because the bump stocks just vibrate the gun and aren’t technically part of the firing mechanism.
“Bottom line, Congress isn’t showing many signs of doing anything,” says State Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle.
So this week, Pedersen, along with six other state senators, introduced a bill in Olympia to ban the sale and manufacture of bump stocks and any other “trigger-modification device” that produces rapid, machine-gun-style fire. The bill also makes the use of a bump stock during a crime a Class A felony — on par with rape or murder.
There are two things notable about this bill. One, it’s backed by two Republicans, Sen. Joe Fain, of Auburn, and Hans Zeiger, of Puyallup, as well as one of the most pro-gun Democrats in the state Senate, Kevin Van De Wege, of Sequim.
The other thing — and you can expect a lot more of this — is how it signifies how fed up the locals are getting waiting around for Congress to do much on any topic.
“Definitely it would be better if there were a national effort at this,” said Pedersen, who takes over in January as chairman of the state Senate’s Law and Justice Committee. “But there’s absolutely no reason to allow a technology that effectively legalizes machine guns. With no national effort, what’s left? We figured it’s up to us.”
It probably is. As massacres like the one in Vegas have faded from the headlines, Congress appears mostly set on expanding gun rights. Making our loose gun rules looser seems like a feat scarcely possible in America, but they’re hard at work on it.
As early as Wednesday, the U.S. House may vote to allow national concealed carry, an NRA wish-list proposal that allows gun owners with a license in one state to carry in any other. The reason many law-enforcement officers are opposed is because some states require training to get these licenses, while others, like ours, don’t. This proposal would effectively set the weakest state law as the national baseline standard.
Cued up behind that is the NRA’s entire holiday gift list in the form of a 22-part bill, the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act, that would roll back decades-old regulations on silencers, protect the use of armor-piercing bullets, ease hunting regulations in wilderness area, allow the baiting of migrating birds with grain for the purpose of then shooting them, and permit people to transport weapons through states and towns in which they’re banned. Ironically, lawmakers’ consideration of this bill has been delayed twice due to mass shootings.
But at this point, that’s what the mass shootings are: inconveniences. There have been 55 of them since the Las Vegas massacre on Oct. 1. That’s not a misprint. Defined by the Gun Violence Archive as any shooting that kills or wounds four or more people, mass shootings are occurring at the rate of one per day for 2017.
Banning bump stocks is the tiniest of fingers in the dike. It’s literally the least they could do.
It looks like even that’s too much to ask, unless we do it ourselves.