Bump stock ban gets last-minute pushback

THE ASSOCIATED PRESSA “bump stock” is attached to a semi-automatic rifle at the Gun Vault store and shooting range in South Jordan, Utah.

BOSTON — A local affiliate of the National Rifle Association is making a last-minute push to defeat a ban on the kind of rifle accessories used by the gunman who opened fire on a Las Vegas music festival.

Members of the Gun Owners Action League of Massachusetts have flooded lawmakers with phone calls in the past few days in an attempt to scuttle a House proposal they claim would outlaw basic modifications or maintenance of firearms, including simple lubrication of gun parts.

"This language is so broad and open to interpretation and abuse that it will cause a legal quagmire for licensed gun owners in Massachusetts," Jim Wallace, executive director of the Gun Owners Action League, wrote to supporters over the weekend.

But opposition to a ban on the accessories, known as bump stocks, faces long odds.

Both the Democratic-controlled House and Senate approved versions of the bill with near-unanimous votes, including conservative stalwarts such as Rep. Jim Lyons, R-Andover.

Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, has said he will sign a bump stock ban if it lands on his desk.

That could happen this week, when a legislative committee is expected to release a compromise version of the bill. The six-member committee met in executive session on Monday but no decisions were made.

Lawmakers attached the bump stock ban as an amendment to a supplemental spending bill. The House and Senate passed different versions of the bill.

The House version, offered by Rep. David Linsky, D-Natick, bans "any device which attaches to a rifle, shotgun or firearm, except a magazine, that is designed to increase the rate of discharge." Anyone found in possession of the devices could face a prison term of three to 20 years.

Tarr crafted Senate version

The Senate version, offered by Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, would expand the state's ban on machine guns to include "bump stocks" and "trigger cranks" designed to alter the firing rate of a firearm, rifle or shotgun. Under his proposal, offenders could face life in prison.

Lawmakers also need to settle on a timeline for a ban. The House version would give bump stock owners 180 days from its passage to get rid of the devices; the Senate version gives them 90 days.

The Gun Owners Action League seems to favor — begrudgingly — the Senate version, which it has suggested could provide a path to ownership for gun enthusiasts who already have the devices.

Bump stocks are cheap, currently legal accessories that can be installed on a semi-automatic rifle. Replacing a traditional stock and pistol grip, they use a rifle’s recoil to allow users to fire more rapidly without seeming to pull the trigger for each round.

Stephen Paddock, the gunman who killed 59 people and wounded more than 500 others at a country music festival in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, had 23 guns in his possession. At least a dozen had bump stocks, police have said.

Massachusetts is one of several states considering a ban or restrictions on bump stocks since the massacre. Several states, including California, New York and Connecticut, have bans or restrictions on bump stocks, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Illinois lawmakers rejected a ban last week, siding with critics who argued that the measure was too broad.

In the Republican-controlled Congress, efforts to ban bump stocks nationally appear to have stalled.

Following the Las Vegas shooting, President Donald Trump and Republican leaders initially signaled an openness to banning the accessory, after decades of resistance by conservatives to limits on guns.

Congressman Seth Moulton, D-Salem, teamed up with Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Florida, on a bipartisan proposal to outlaw the devices.

But House Speaker Paul Ryan recently poured cold water on those efforts, saying the issue should be handled by regulation. He told reporters the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, not Congress, should come up with proposed restrictions.

The NRA has said the devices should be "subject to additional regulations" but has stopped short of calling on Congress to ban them.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at cwade@cnhi.com

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