In the wake of the Las Vegas massacre, Republicans on Capitol Hill have shown deep reluctance to consider any gun legislation, worried that Democrats will use the shooting as a pretext to restrict law-abiding citizens’ Second Amendment rights.
This reluctance is understandable, particularly in the wake of the near-instantaneous effort by some Democrats to politicize this tragedy. But it is a mistake. The Las Vegas attack exposed a gaping hole in the existing and widely supported automatic-weapons ban—and Republicans can easily close it without infringing on constitutional rights.
Law enforcement authorities have confirmed that the shooter, Stephen Paddock, had 12 weapons in his hotel room fitted with “bump-fire stocks,” devices that effectively turn semiautomatic rifles into machine guns. Under current law, machine guns—weapons that fire multiple rounds with a single trigger pull—are almost completely banned in the United States, as are devices that convert rifles to do so. Bump-fire stocks get around this ban by using the gun’s recoil to repeatedly “bump” the weapon back into the shooter’s trigger finger, creating an automatic effect. As Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Special Agent in Charge Jill Snyder explained, “Bump-fire stocks, while simulating automatic fire, do not actually alter the firearm to fire automatically, making them legal under current federal law.”
Republicans should immediately announce their intention to pass legislation banning such devices.
A ban on bump-fire stocks and similar devices would not infringe on gun rights. Automatic weapons are already banned as part of the 1986 Firearms Owners Protection Act, signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. Bump-fire stocks are designed to circumvent a ban that Republicans already are on record supporting. Closing this loophole does not restrict gun rights; it simply comports with the intent of existing firearms laws.
This is an opportunity for bipartisanship. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and 33 Senate Democrats have introduced the Automatic Gun Fire Prevention Act, “a bill to close a loophole that allows semi-automatic weapons to be easily modified to fire at the rate of automatic weapons.” The Feinstein bill would “ban the sale, transfer, importation, manufacture or possession of bump stocks, trigger cranks and similar accessories that accelerate a semi-automatic rifle’s rate of fire” and “makes clear that its intent is to target only those accessories that increase a semi-automatic rifle’s rate of fire.”
So far not one Republican has co-sponsored the bill. Some, such asHouse Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas and Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the third-ranking Senate Republican, have expressed interest in learning more about the issue. Others have dismissed it outright. “I’m a Second Amendment man,” Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., declared. “I’m not for any gun control, okay? None.”
This is a mistake. Republicans should join Feinstein to solve this problem. They should ensure that there is clear language in the bill to prevent the ATF from reclassifying semiautomatic weapons as machine guns so that it does not become a backdoor effort to ban currently lawful weapons. Then they should then make it Feinstein’s job to rally her caucus to support the effort and not blow it up with more expansive legislation restricting Second Amendment rights. If Democrats then insist on more, it means they want to politicize the issue more than to arrive at a solution.
There is so little we agree on these days, but this is a chance for both parties to come together on something that most Americans would likely support—including the vast majority of gun owners. Some Republicans might oppose such a ban because they actually do not support the automatic weapons ban itself. Fair enough. But that battle was lost more than three decades ago. The ban is the law of the land. It has broad public support, including from the National Rifle Association. Opposing the closure of a loophole that was just used to massacre at least 58 Americans and injure hundreds more is the very definition of a losing battle. The Democrats’ principal talking point is that Republicans refuse to take even the most common-sense measures to reduce gun violence in the United States. If the GOP can’t take this common-sense step, the party will be proving its critics right.
Would a bump stock ban have prevented or lessened the tragedy in Las Vegas? We’ll never know for sure. We do know that the automatic-weapons ban has largely worked. Paddock needed these devices to create a simulated machine gun because he was likely unable to obtain a real machine gun. So let’s agree to make it harder to obtain simulated machine guns as well.
If we can ban a tool of mass murder without infringing on the gun rights of lawful citizens, we should join together and do so. Those who died in Las Vegas at the hands of a gunman using such a tool deserve no less.
Alternative facts update
1. The Donald is tweetedly upset by NFL officials disrespecting flags during football games. “They throw ‘em right on the ground. DISGRACEFUL!”
2. The White House has asked the FBI to investigate claims by Donald that Barack and Hillary operatives, working out of upstate New York, infiltrated Vermont. The purported aim of the incursion was to install taps on sugar maple trees owned by Donald.
3. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is appealing to his parliament to approve the construction of a wall along the southern land border with the United States. He said the purpose of the wall is to keep people coming in from the United States from overwhelming Canadian pharmacies and health care facilities. Idaho will be billed for 45 miles of the wall.
4. Donald Trump is drafting an executive order designed to force the Internal Revenue Service to release his tax records. He tweeted, “They’ve had ‘em long enough. No more foot-dragging. RELEASE ‘EM!”
5. Sarah Huckabee Sanders has been invited to appear on “Dancing With the Stars.” This is no doubt due to her skill of dancing around questions posed to her by the press corps at her White house press briefings. When asked if Sean Spicer would be her dance partner, she replied, “I’ll have to get back to you on that.”
6. Upon learning Puerto Rico was not part of Cuba, Donald Trump said, “We should send them some help. It’ll make a good story.”
7. Social activists are pressuring marketers of red-skin peanuts and red-skin potatoes to change the names of their products. The current monikers are insensitive, they claim.
Make America groan again.
This appeared in the Lewiston Tribune
Puerto Rico can claim four of its own as voting members of the U.S House of Representatives:
Rep. Nydia M. Velazquez, D-N.Y.
Rep. Jose E. Serrano, D-N.Y.
Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla.
Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho.
All were born in Puerto Rico. All moved to the U.S. and became successful in politics.
So when the Trump administration’s response to the devastation Hurricane Maria unleashed on the 3.4 million American citizens living in that U.S. territory fell short, three of them made their displeasure clear.
“The Trump administration was slow off the mark,” said Soto.
“This needs to be an immediate priority for Speaker (Paul) Ryan and the Republican leadership,” said Velazquez.
Puerto Rico needs a Hurricane Sandy-magnitude response, Serrano wrote in a letter to President Trump.
All spoke up in support of their birthplace except Labrador.
On Facebook and Twitter, he wrote: “My heart breaks for the people of Puerto Rico. Encouraged by federal response so far. I encourage Idahoans to help.”
But when it comes to marshalling public pressure on the White House to save lives and rebuild the island, he’s been conspicuously silent. He’s not been on television. He’s issued no public statements or traditional news releases. Certainly nothing suggests Labrador disagrees with the administration’s response to Puerto Rico up to now.
Why the reserve?
Is Labrador silent because he is the sole Republican in this group? Granted, Labrador isn’t the only member of the GOP who is standing by his Faustian bargain with the White House. But why remain silent in the face of 18 weekend tweets from President Trump attacking San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz and suggesting the people of Puerto Rico “want everything to be done for them?”
Or is it because he’s never shown much support for other storm relief packages? He voted against hurricane relief for New York and New Jersey. He says he would have done the same concerning the Hurricane Harvey relief for Texas had he cast a vote.
Could his silence reflect simple politics? Unlike Velazquez, Serrano and Soto, Labrador does not have a Puerto Rican component to his constituency.
Maybe Labrador believes he’s no more obligated to speak up for the home he left at age 13 than Idaho Sen. Jim Risch would be expected to do if trouble strikes his native Wisconsin.
The difference is that Labrador has highlighted his biography as a central feature in his political campaigns. The story of how his mother as a single parent brought him to Las Vegas and raised him—as well as the story of his advancement toward the legal profession and then Congress—is an appealing tale of grit and determination.
He’s also maintained ties to Puerto Rico. For instance, Labrador has raised more than $25,000 in campaign donations from sources within the city of San Juan. In 2011, his campaign spent $6,295 holding an event at the Wyndham Rio Mar Beach Resort & Spa in San Juan.
According to Opensecrets.org, only the venues of Boise, Washington, D.C., and Salt Lake City-Ogden, Utah, played a bigger role in his campaign fundraising efforts since he first ran for Congress in 2010.
He has remained engaged in Puerto Rico’s issues. For instance, Labrador worked to help restructure the faltering U.S. territory’s debt.
And unlike Risch’s native Wisconsin—which has two senators, eight members of Congress and 10 votes in the Electoral College—Puerto Rico has only one non-voting delegate in the U.S. House.
In other words, Puerto Rico must rely on members of Congress from the mainland who have a keen understanding of its problems. When it comes to his boyhood home, Labrador enjoys credibility with his colleagues, particularly those within his own party. What he has to say about how well recovery efforts are being handled—and what more needs to be done—would influence others on Capitol Hill.
The Idaho Republican has a unique opportunity to speak up for Puerto Rico. If Puerto Rico can’t count on Labrador, where can it turn?