KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
It has now been more than three weeks since the worst mass shooting in modern American history, and the effort by Congress to ban bumps stocks, those devices used by the gunman, has not gone anywhere. NPR's Geoff Bennett reports on why.
GEOFF BENNETT, BYLINE: Less than a month ago, few people had ever even heard of bump stocks. That changed after the October 1 massacre in Las Vegas in which a gunman rained bullets down into a crowd attending a country music festival. Investigators later found 12 rifles in the gunman's hotel room, each fitted with a bump stock. The once-little-known devices quickly caught the attention of lawmakers and the public.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
ROBERT SIEGEL, BYLINE: Democrats are pushing for a ban on the bump stocks.
(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS MONTAGE)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: What to do about the sale and possession of bump stock...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Something called a bump stock...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Bump stock...
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Regulating bump stocks...
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Bipartisan support to look into restricting bump stocks...
BENNETT: Bump stocks attach to standard semiautomatic firearms and allow them to fire almost like battlefield machine guns. Within days of the Las Vegas mass shooting, Florida Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo and Democratic Congressman Seth Moulton of Massachusetts introduced legislation to ban the manufacture, sale and use of bump stocks. While the prospects for gun legislation on Capitol Hill have for years alternated between highly unlikely and nonexistent, there seemed to be an initial willingness among lawmakers to consider a bump stock ban. Here's Curbelo speaking to MSNBC on October 5.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
CARLOS CURBELO: There is definitely a lot of momentum here, and I think our leaders are already responding to that growing momentum inside the House Republican Conference.
BENNETT: But now Democrat Seth Moulton offers a more sober assessment.
SETH MOULTON: It's always a challenging environment trying to make common sense gun reform in Congress.
BENNETT: Even though more than two dozen House Democrats and Republicans have signed onto the bill, the Curbelo-Moulton bump stock ban appears to have stalled. One obstacle, says Moulton, is the influence of the National Rifle Association, which has long fought new firearms restrictions even following mass shootings.
The NRA is calling for a regulatory fix for bump stocks rather than legislation. And House Speaker Paul Ryan, who first signaled an openness to considering congressional action, is now siding with the NRA. Ryan and the NRA say the best approach is for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or the ATF, to regulate the devices. But, says Moulton...
MOULTON: I think we're going to find out that they can't because they've already tried to regulate under existing law.
BENNETT: The ATF has repeatedly made clear that current law does not allow the bureau to regulate bump stocks, which are considered to be accessories that fall outside of its purview. The NRA support for bump stock regulations is just a ruse, says Robyn Thomas, executive director of the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
ROBYN THOMAS: It's really just a way to avoid the issue actually being dealt with at all. It's the NRA once again pretending that they won't oppose something. And when push comes to shove, they find workarounds to make sure the issue isn't actually able to be dealt with.
BENNETT: The NRA didn't respond to our request for a comment. The Curbelo-Moulton bill isn't the only current legislative effort to ban bump stocks. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California introduced a separate bill this month, but no Republicans have signed on. Moulton is aware that attention is fading, and the passage of time is working against his bill.
MOULTON: You know, there's always a concern that momentum will flag, that America has moved on. But our job as leaders and representatives of the American people is to ensure that we get it done regardless of what the news of the day is.
BENNETT: Getting it done, Moulton says, means passing a federal law. But at the moment, that effort doesn't appear to have a viable path forward. Geoff Bennett, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.