Less than 18 months after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, the United States raised the bar yet again when it comes to naming “the worst mass shooting in modern American history.” This week, at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas, Nevada, a gunman opened fire from a hotel room overlooking the event, killing 58 and injuring more than 500 people.
It is no coincidence that the death toll from mass shootings continues to increase.
In Las Vegas, the shooter used an accessory known as a bump stock—a device that attaches to a semi-automatic rifle, increasing its rate of fire to nearly that of a machine gun—which allowed him to inflict maximum carnage on the 22,000 concertgoers. The catastrophic loss of life in the Las Vegas shooting was due in large part to the use of a bump stock, but this device is just one of many types of firearm components and accessories being marketed by the gun industry that convert firearms into military-style weapons.
While a bump stock allowed the Las Vegas shooter to dramatically increase his rate of fire, another accessory also contributed to the horrific number of casualties—large capacity ammunition magazines. These magazines, which started gaining traction in the 1980s, hold many rounds of ammunition (in some cases up to 100 bullets), enabling a shooter to fire for a sustained period of time without having to reload. While such capability may be useful on the battlefield, it is particularly dangerous in civilian life. The Las Vegas shooter had multiple large capacity ammunition magazines in his hotel room, and, based on the number of rounds he fired without pause, used several.
Large capacity ammunition magazines allow mass shooters to do unspeakable damage in a matter of seconds. These accessories are the common thread among the deadliest mass shootings in the United States in the last 20 years. During the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012, the shooter fired 154 rounds in just five minutes, killing 26 people, including 20 schoolchildren. Even though the shooter was armed with 30-round magazines, when he paused to reload, 11 children were able to escape.
The smaller the number of rounds a magazine can hold, the more times a mass shooter is forced to reload, allowing law enforcement to intervene and survivors to run to safety. In Tucson, Arizona, the gunman who shot former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and killed six people, including a nine-year old girl, was tackled while he attempted to reload his weapon with another large capacity ammunition magazine.
While no federal law restricting magazine capacity exists, seven states and the District of Columbia prohibit the purchase or possession of magazines capable of holding more than ten rounds (Colorado limits magazine capacity to 15 rounds).
While marketing bump stocks and large capacity ammunition magazines to gun owners might increase gun industry profits, the toll on the American public is unfathomable. In addition to increasing the number of casualties in a mass shooting, these weapons also pose great risks to law enforcement officers who may encounter criminals armed with these weapons. And, contrary to claims by the gun lobby, militarized weapons are completely unnecessary for self-defense or hunting. The Los Angeles Police Chief put the matter succinctly, stating that these magazines “transform a gun into a weapon of mass death rather than a home-protection-type device.”
If Congress is interested in taking urgent action to address bump stocks as an initial response to the Las Vegas shooting, here is the framework we propose:
- Congress should ban the future manufacturing of bump stocks.
- Congress should ban the transfer of bump stocks in current circulation from one person to another.
- Existing bump stocks already in circulation should be registered to their current owner under the National Firearms Act.
- Congress must dedicate additional resources to ATF to enforce our nation’s gun laws and deal with a surge in NFA weapons applications.
- Congress must require gun stores to report multiple sales of all firearms, not just handguns, to ATF.
The Law Center commends the courageous lawmakers who have resisted pressure by the gun lobby and enacted laws prohibiting the possession and use of militarized weapons and accessories, such as large capacity ammunition magazines. We are encouraged by the recent discussion of bipartisan efforts to regulate bump stocks, and hope recent events put the use of these deadly accessories in perspective for lawmakers, advocates, and the public.