Lawmakers disagree on bump-stock fix

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Wednesday that limits on the bump-stock devices used in the Las Vegas mass-shooting should be subject to regulatory review by ATF, a signal that for now a legislative ban is not under consideration.

“We think the regulatory fix is the smartest, quickest fix,’’ Ryan told reporters, setting off a firestorm among Connecticut’s Democratic lawmakers that Ryan’s position was a cop out to the National Rifle Association.

“I think it’s disingenuous,’’ said Rep. Elizabeth Esty, whose district includes Newtown, the site of the 2012 mass-shooting that took the lives of 20 children and six school employees.

“Thank you, Paul Ryan, for jumping into line behind the NRA,’’ said Rep. Jim Himes.

Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock was able to kill 58 people and wound over 500 with semi-automatic rifles equipped with a bump-stock device, which turns a single-trigger-pull semi-automatic rifle into one that replicates a fully automatic machine gun.

The use of bump stocks set off calls by Democrats to pass a law banning them, which some Republicans support. Others, including Ryan, initially said they would consider it.

But gun-rights groups including the NRA and the Newtown-based National Shooting Sports Foundation said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — which approved two versions of the device — should re-examine their decisions to see how they comport with laws passed by Congress in 1934 and 1986.

Those laws effectively ban machine guns, and strictly regulate the few left on the civilian market.

“We urge Congress to allow ATF to complete its review before considering any legislation so that any policy decisions can be informed by the facts and ATF’s analysis,’’ NSSF said in a statement Monday.

Gun-rights advocates say that however limited, passage of new gun laws might open the floodgates to other more stringent legislative efforts.

“It never seems to end,’’ said Scott Wilson, president of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League.

Connecticut Democrats, who see themselves as custodians of legislative efforts to rein in easy access to guns, countered that the ATF approved the devices in the first place because technically they fell on the legal side of the laws’ distinction between (legal) semi-automatic weapons and (illegal) automatic ones.

“Paul Ryan should do his job,’’ said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., “He knows the statutes are ambiguous. He knows punting to ATF is not solving the problem.’’

Federal firearms law states weapons that require one trigger-pull per shot are semi-automatic, and therefore legal. Weapons that send forth a burst of fire — 400 to 800 rounds per minute — with a single trigger-pull are fully automatic. They are therefore illegal or subject to strict regulation.

Government testers at ATF’s facility in Martinsburg, W. Va., approved the “Slide Stock,’’ manufactured by Slidefire in Moran, Texas, in 2010. The device harnesses the recoil of the rifle to load more rounds and fire them in quick succession. Since each shot technically requires a trigger-pull, ATF determined it legal.

Questions of public safety are “always a concern of any law enforcement agency,’’ said ATF senior firearms enforcement officer Max Kingery in a 2013 interview with Hearst Newspapers.

But legality of such devices is guided by “policy decisions that are well beyond me or, I think, this office,’’ Kingery said.

An ATF spokesman said the bureau would not comment “on pending legislation, legislative proposals, or the possibility of Executive action.’’