Las Vegas Sun

September 26, 2018

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Bump stocks are the tip of the iceberg in stopping the tide of gun violence


Rick Bowmer / AP

In this Oct. 4, 2017, photo, a device called a “bump stock” is attached to a semi-automatic rifle at the Gun Vault store and shooting range in South Jordan, Utah.

Exactly 68 weeks passed between the June 12, 2016, attack at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., and the Oct. 1 mass shooting in Las Vegas.

During that time — from the moment Omar Mateen stopped firing on the crowd at Pulse and Stephen Paddock opened fire from his Mandalay Bay suite — there were at least 15 other shootings in which at least four people died, not including the shooter.

That means the nation averaged a mass shooting every four and a half weeks between Orlando and Las Vegas. That includes a quadruple homicide-suicide in Northwest Las Vegas 17 days after the Pulse massacre.

It’s way past time to take action to reduce gun violence. And the solution goes far beyond banning bump stocks.

Any serious discussion about reducing the nation’s epidemic of gun violence should include, at the very least, expanding background checks for firearm sales and banning the sale and possession of the type of high-capacity magazines that were found stacked in Paddock’s room.

Both of those measures have been discussed after other mass shootings — notably Sandy Hook — but fizzled amid enormous resistance from the National Rifle Association.

It’s time for both Congress and the state of Nevada to revisit them.

Heading into the 2017 Nevada legislative session, Sheriff Joe Lombardo was asked by the Las Vegas Sun how he’d feel about a ban on high-capacity magazines in the state. Here’s what he said: “I’m a very avid hunter, I was in the military myself, and there’s no need to have a high-capacity magazine for any practical reason.”

Lombardo is one of several responsible law enforcement officers who’ve raised concerns about high-capacity magazines.

Sadly, lawmakers almost completely ignored gun control measures during the session, despite there being a Democratic majority in both the Senate and Assembly. Worse yet, legislative leaders didn’t pressure Gov. Brian Sandoval and Attorney General Adam Laxalt to iron out a technical problem that has prevented implementation of a 2016 ballot measure to expand background checks.

So while at least eight states plus the District of Columbia have banned high-capacity magazines and eight plus D.C. have adopted universal background checks, Nevada remained at status quo despite the alarming uptick in mass shootings and other instances of gun violence.

After the Oct. 1 shooting, we can’t keep standing still.

State officials must find a way to implement the background check measure, which would make sales at gun shows and between private individuals subject to the same checks as transactions involving private dealers. Language in the ballot initiative required for the new checks to be conducted by the FBI, but implementation fell apart when the federal agency stated in a letter to Nevada officials that state legislation couldn’t dictate how federal resources were applied.

Instead of working on behalf of the voters to find a fix, however, Laxalt used the letter as a convenient excuse to wash his hands of the measure. Considering he had opposed it during the election, going so far as to appear in TV commercials calling for Nevadans to vote it down, it’s not like he needed much of a push.

It was one thing for Laxalt to so nonchalantly write off the will of the voters, as he’s such an operative of the NRA that he probably has to wash the taste of gun oil out of his mouth every morning. But Sandoval and legislative leaders didn’t press for a solution, either, which added insult to injury.

Somewhat to his credit, Sandoval announced after the shooting that he would direct Laxalt to work toward implementation, and Laxalt's office issued an opinion Thursday saying it didn't disagree with supporters of the measure that Sandoval could approach federal officials "with a proposed policy solution." But the fact that it took the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history to force some movement in Carson City is devastatingly sad.

True, based on what we know about Paddock, the background check initiative would have had no effect on the attack. There’s been no public indication that Paddock was ever diagnosed with a mental illness.

But a federal ban on high-capacity magazines could have limited the damage, which is why Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., should back a proposed ban introduced by Democrats including Nevada Reps. Jacky Rosen, Ruben Kihuen and Dina Titus. Heller and other members of Congress also should permit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to launch an exhaustive study on gun violence, as rigorous scientific study would give teeth to policy moves.

As the gun violence epidemic worsens, Nevadans won’t put up with ducking and dodging from their leaders any longer on gun control measures aimed at improving public safety. Members of the state’s congressional delegation owe it to their constituents to re-examine universal background checks and a nationwide high-capacity magazine ban, and to staunchly oppose the current NRA-backed measure to make silencers and armor-piercing bullets easier to purchase.

Meanwhile, state government and legislative leaders should press on their own initiatives to curb gun violence. Given that current presidential administration and the Republican majorities in Congress seem willing to go to practically any length to please the NRA and pro-gun voters, it’s questionable whether much beyond a bump-stock ban will come out of Washington, D.C. It will most likely be up to state leaders to move the ball forward.

With mass shootings happening practically as often as we turn calendar pages, marking time is more dangerous than ever.

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