In the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein introduced a bill Wednesday that would ban bump stocks and other equipment that could be used to convert semi-automatic weapons into fully automatic ones, which is what Stephen Paddock did with many of his rifles. This seemed, at first, like another extremely modest Democratic response to a mass shooting that Republicans would immediately ignore or decry as an immoral, ungodly affront to the Second Amendment. That is still the likely outcome. But the door isn’t completely shut just yet.
Most Republican senators, when asked about Feinstein’s bill Wednesday, said that they don’t know anything about any bump stocks and were waiting for their staffs to brief them. “My staff’s going to sit down and walk me through the issue,” Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker told reporters. “That’s an issue I’m trying to get to speed on, actually,” Alabama Sen. Luther Strange said. After about seven or eight senators said they were waiting for their staff to fill them in on these so-called “bump” “stocks,” those of us asking seemed to have a pretty good grasp of the day’s circulated talking point.
But one senator—a rather important one—had a little more to offer. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn doesn’t yet support Feinstein’s bill, or a ban on bump stocks, but he’s open to a hearing. Progress!
Cornyn said he spoke to Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and told him he “thought it would be a good idea to have a hearing on that issue” and any other relevant topics that arise out of the Las Vegas investigation.
“It strikes me as odd that it’s illegal to convert a semi-automatic weapon to an automatic weapon, but apparently these bump stocks are not illegal under the current law,” Cornyn told reporters on Wednesday. “And I think that’s a legitimate question, that somebody can essentially convert a semi-automatic to an automatic weapon by buying one of these and utilizing it.
“I own a lot of guns,” he continued. (Got to get that in there.) “As a hunter and sportsman, I think that’s our right as Americans. But I don’t understand the use of this bump stock. And that’s another reason to have a hearing.”
Cornyn told reporters that he would grab Grassley from the Republicans’ private lunch room so we could ask him if he’d hold such a hearing. After Cornyn went to talk to him, though, Grassley left the room through a separate exit away from reporters. (Grassley, when asked earlier in the day about bump stock legislation, questioned whether it could get 60 votes in the Senate.)
Around the same time on the other side of the Capitol, a separate Texas Republican—Rep. Bill Flores, a former chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee—appears to have become the first congressional Republican to call for a bump stock ban outright.
Even in the wake of a tragedy this massive, it is still very, very difficult to see a Republican Congress passing legislation that in any way curtails the use of any gun or gun accessory. Especially when their base is already pissed at them for a lack of progress on other fronts. But right now, the door is ever-so-slightly ajar.