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Tennessee panel blocks testimony of Las Vegas shooting survivors on bump stocks

Las Vegas Shooting Weapons

Allen Breed / AP

In this Feb. 1, 2013, file photo, an employee of North Raleigh Guns demonstrates how a “bump” stock works at the Raleigh, N.C., shop.

Updated Wednesday, March 7, 2018 | 6:43 p.m.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A Tennessee legislative panel refused to let two Las Vegas concert shooting survivors testify Wednesday after Republicans delayed action on a Democratic bill to ban the device used by that gunman in October.

House Majority Leader Glen Casada said he requested the delay on the bump stock ban proposal to hear how federal authorities will act in the coming weeks. President Donald Trump has said he'll use executive order to ban bump stocks, which allow guns to fire like automatic weapons.

Casada insisted it's not an attempt to duck a vote, since the bill was placed on the agenda for the subcommittee's last meeting this year, likely in a few weeks.

The Franklin Republican said that if federal authorities "don't act in that period of time, then we will."

Republicans face a tough spot with the proposal, which has the president's support and the powerful National Rifle Association's opposition. One of the highest-ranking state Senate Republicans co-sponsored the bill recently, only to strip his name from it a few days later.

Democratic Reps. Bill Beck and G.A. Hardaway left Wednesday's meeting in protest after Rep. Mike Carter, the subcommittee chairman, refused to allow the testimony. The survivors of the shooting that killed 58 people were Chris Stephens, a road manager for country musician Jason Aldean, and Kari Kuefler. They declined to be interviewed afterward.

Carter said he doesn't recall ever allowing testimony on bills not being discussed. He said the two can testify when the bill is next considered.

"You're certainly welcome to be back. If you want to file written testimony, we'll take that, whatever," said Carter, an Ooltewah Republican. "It's just not going to be done today."

Beck disagreed, saying lawmakers have let others testify similarly previously.

Rep. Dwayne Thompson, the bill sponsor, called the panel's actions "preposterous." He said Stephens flew in from Dallas to testify.

"Personally, I believe that the powers that be behind the scenes, the gun lobby, has let it be known to them that they don't want this bill to be heard," said Thompson, a Cordova Democrat. "They definitely don't want it to be passed."

On Monday, Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron dropped his name from the bump stock ban proposal, a few days after becoming a co-sponsor. He had been scheduled to appear at a press conference on the bill, he added.

But he decided to stop co-sponsoring the legislation, citing the president's pledge to address it; conversations with Ronnie Barrett of his namesake Tennessee-based rifle design and manufacturing company; an NRA attorney; and personal research.

The Murfreesboro lawmaker lamented a 2010 ruling by President Barack Obama's administration that bump stocks didn't violate federal law. Congress in 1986 outlawed the sale of new automatic weapons to civilians.

"I'm really conflicted on, 'Is it legal or is not?'" Ketron said Monday. "I'm just going to let the members hear the testimony and vote their consciences."

Still, he said bump stocks aren't necessary, and it won't hurt his feelings if a state ban passes.

"I mean, you're not going to go out and shoot a deer with that, a bump stock, because it'll already go and cut it up. You won't have to take it to a butcher," Ketron said. "What purpose? You can't use a bump stock to go to target practice."

After Ketron dropped off the bill, Senate Democratic Minority Leader Lee Harris acknowledged that the politics are tricky.

"I think it's unlikely that we'll see major reform in Tennessee or anywhere," the Memphis lawmaker and bill sponsor said Monday. "It is what it is. This is where we are. We're stuck."