WASHINGTON – Through the Second Amendment, the Founding Fathers did not envision American citizens harnessing the power to unload 500 to 1,000 rounds in a short period of time using bump-fire stocks, Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said today.
Durbin made his comments during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in which lawmakers debated Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein’s (D-Calif.) Automatic Gun Fire Prevention Act, which would outlaw bump stocks and similar accessories. The legislation was crafted in response to the Las Vegas mass shooting in October, which marked the deadliest gun rampage in American history.
Police recovered at least 12 bump-fire stocks from the hotel room of shooter Stephen Paddock, who fired at least 1,000 rounds into a crowd of more than 20,000 at a music festival on the Las Vegas strip, killing 58 people. Bump stocks allow semi-automatic rifles to continuously fire like automatic weapons.
Feinstein’s legislation, which has garnered 40 co-sponsors yet no Republican backers, has been criticized for being too vague. Two experts speaking before the committee said that the legislation as written would seriously violate the Second Amendment, given that it would block access to gun repair and commonly possessed semi-automatic rifles.
“Does anyone imagine – and I’m sure everyone realizes what I’m saying is an exaggeration – that our Founding Fathers thought (the Second Amendment) gave an American citizen the right to own a firearm that discharged 480 rounds in a church in Texas and 1,110 rounds in Las Vegas?” Durbin asked. “How does that fit into the notion of self defense or the use of firearms for sport or hunting? It doesn’t.”
Durbin was referring to the November mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, in which 26-year-old gunman Devin Patrick Kelley, who had previously been discharged from the Air Force for bad behavior, murdered 25 people. In response to the crime, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) has crafted legislation that would reform the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System. The Fix NICS Act, which has gained 25 co-sponsors split evenly across parties, would penalize political appointees who fail to meet the requirements of the FBI’s criminal background check system, among other reforms.
“I’ve personally gotten a little tired of the statements following these tragedies that we need to do something, do something,” Cornyn said during the hearing. “I think it’s pretty clear, particularly when it comes to fixing our broken background check system, what that something is.”
Kelley’s domestic violence conviction in military court should have disqualified him from buying a semi-automatic rifle he used in the shooting, but the FBI never received proper records from the Air Force, according to reports. Cornyn promised that cleaning up NICS will save lives in the future.
Though Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) agreed that these laws should be tightened, he said that there will always be ways to evade background checks through gun shows and private sellers. He pointed out that the straw purchaser who obtained a gun for the San Bernardino shooter in 2015 couldn’t be charged with firearms trafficking, despite the fact that he knew the buyer was planning a terrorist attack. That’s because the purchaser couldn’t identify a specific attack, according to Leahy.
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Acting Director Thomas E. Brandon agreed that proving knowledge of a crime is difficult.
Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) said that gun owners should not be penalized for the bad actions of a few, just like all Muslims should not be ostracized because of the heinous acts of a few terrorists. He noted that there are about 90 million law-abiding gun owners in the United States. The FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division assistant director, Douglas Lindquist, agreed with Kennedy, saying that 90 percent of transactions his office reviews are for law-abiding citizens.
Heather Gooze, who was working as a bartender during the festival in Las Vegas, told senators that though she’s an avid Second Amendment rights supporter, she’s in favor of Feinstein’s bill.
“These devices are not for hunting. They’re not for target practice. They’re for hurting people, and they have no place in our general society. I hope that my story will help you understand why,” she said, before describing the gory scene in which she helped victims with multiple injuries, some fatal. In one instance, Gooze said, she plugged a bullet hole in a man’s head with her bare hands.