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January 16, 2019

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Woman who was at concert massacre pleads for bump stock ban

Cortney Carroll remembers the noise. She thought it was fireworks, but then realized it sounded like a machine gun, "a noise you only hear in the movies."

The Richmond, Va.-area resident — a country music lover, a Republican and a gun supporter — remembers the screams, the crying, the confusion and people yelling.

She told her story to a Virginia Senate committee Monday that heard a number of gun bills, including a ban on bump stocks, the device that allowed shooter Stephen Paddock to shoot hundreds of rounds a minute — at one point 90 bullets in 10 seconds.

Carroll was there for the music, to meet new people and to have fun. Instead, bullets rained down on the Jason Aldean concert killing 58 people and wounding 546.

She remembers crouching down with her aunt to avoid the rapid rate of gunfire coming from the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas on Oct. 1.

Her aunt was hit and injured. She was unhurt, but suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and rarely wants to leave her house. She fears big crowds and looks for exits in every new room she enters.

"If bump stocks were banned, he wouldn't have been allowed to shoot 1,100 rounds a minute," Carroll told the Senate Courts of Justice committee Monday. "We were untrained in a war zone."

"Don't allow this to happen again."

SB1 prohibits manufacture, import, sale and possession "of any device used to increase the rate of fire of any semi-automatic firearm beyond the capability of an unaided person to operate the trigger mechanism of that firearm."

The bill makes it a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable with up to 12 months in jail, a fine up to $2,500 or both.

The bill was voted 11-4 to be sent to the Senate Finance committee for a second hearing. Sometimes, unpopular bills backed by Democrats get sent to the Republican-majority committee to stop the bills in their tracks. Republican Sens. Ben Chafin, Ryan McDougle, Mark Obenshain and Bryce Reeves voted against reporting the bill.

A similar bill in the House hasn't had a hearing yet.

Bump stocks are a gun accessory that essentially converts semi-automatic firearms into fully automatic ones.

The device replaces the gun's shoulder rest, with a "support step" that covers the trigger opening. By holding the pistol grip with one hand and pushing forward on the barrel with the other, the shooter's finger comes in contact with the trigger. The recoil causes the gun to buck back and forth, "bumping" the trigger and allowing a firing rate up to 800 rounds a minute.

Many spoke in opposition, including the National Rifle Association, which previously said the devices should be "subject to additional regulations."

One man said the bill's language is an overreach and said almost "everything on my gun is meant increases the rate of fire and accuracy." Everything but the bayonet holder, he said.

Philip Van Cleave, President of the pro-gun Virginia Citizens Defense League, said the automatic-like fire can be recreated by a number of different accessories. He said he's been able to re-create the rate of fire with just his trigger finger.

Asked why bump stocks shouldn't be banned, he said, "They're fun to shoot (with)."

Sen. Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax County) said that though an automatic weapon, a howitzer, a bazooka "are fun to shoot," the general citizen shouldn't have access to them.

Meanwhile, more than a hundred people, some open-carrying rifles and handguns, gathered on Capitol Square for the VCDL's annual lobby day.

Del. Ben Cline (R-Rockbridge), who is running for Congress, said the Senate let out the bump stock bill and Gov. Ralph Northam is eager to sign any bills "restricting your gun rights."

Cline said the House Courts of Justice and Militia, Police and Public Safety committees, two that he sits on, are "the last line of defense (for your rights)."

Other gun bills, Northam priorities killed

Two of eight priorities for the Northam administration saw quick ends Monday.

The Senate committee struck down universal background checks for gun purchases 9-6.

It also struck down a bill to raise the felony larceny threshold from $200 to $1,000.

Instead, SB105, a bill to raise the threshold to $500 was sent to the full Senate 12-3. The bill has historically been defeated in the House, though the makeup of that chamber altered significantly since 2017.

If passed, the $500 threshold would put Virginia in about the middle of all the states.

Northam's administration said the threshold has not been raised since 1980. Public Safety Secretary Brian Moran testified in support and presented a chart that read "In Virginia, one mistake could cost you your life."