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Senate Democrats try maneuver to pass ban on ‘bump stocks’

Republicans block a unanimous consent request in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling on the gun accessories

Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., speaks to reporters during a news conference last fall.
Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., speaks to reporters during a news conference last fall. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Democrats tried Tuesday to pass a federal ban on “bump stocks” that allow rifles to mimic the pace of automatic gunfire, but Nebraska Republican Sen. Pete Ricketts blocked the procedural move and said the bill went too far.

The unanimous consent request came less than a week after conservative justices on the Supreme Court threw out a Trump administration rule that banned the device, which was used in a 2017 mass shooting at a music festival in Las Vegas.

It remains the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

The Supreme Court ruling reignited a debate among congressional lawmakers, with Democrats pressing to pass the ban and pointing to interest from Republicans during the Trump era to address the availability of bump stocks.

Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., requested unanimous consent to pass a bill he introduced that would ban the import, sale, manufacture, possession and transfer of bump stocks and other devices. The bill would require owners of firearms that have been modified with bump stocks to register such firearms.

Ricketts objected to the request and said the bill targets common firearm accessories, not just bump stocks.

“If Democrats really cared about gun violence, they’d be trying to build support for a bill that can actually pass,” Ricketts said.

“Instead, we have a show vote on a bill that uses vague language to ban as many firearms accessories as possible and limit the Second Amendment rights of disabled and elderly Americans who may need certain accessories to use a firearm safely,” Ricketts said.

Ricketts also raised concerns that the Biden administration would not interpret the bill language in a way that respects law-abiding gun owners.

Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., in a floor speech Tuesday, said the Supreme Court ruling endangers communities and law enforcement, and makes it easier for mass shooters to perpetuate violence.

The legislation before the Senate, he said, would “return things to the status quo set by Donald Trump” and said Senate Republicans overall supported Trump’s ban on bump stocks back then.

Schumer attacked arguments that the bill was simply political theater. “Go tell the families of those who lost loved ones that this is a stunt. Go tell the many who have recovered from injuries that this is a stunt,” Schumer said.

“Are my Republican colleagues serious? Do they really think banning bump stocks is some kind of stunt?” Schumer said. “Again, they should tell that to the people of Nevada who have dead relatives because of bump stocks.”

Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., referenced the 2017 Las Vegas shooting at a press conference Tuesday, saying the “carnage created by bump stocks is very real.”

“The Trump-era ban was common sense and it saved lives. We now have a responsibility to make it permanent in federal law,” Rosen said.

Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., argued that Republicans supported going after bump stocks during the Trump administration “and now all of a sudden they’re taking the side of the NRA.”

“This isn’t a political show vote. This is an opportunity to do the right thing and make sure that psychopaths and mad men don’t have access to converted machine guns,” Murphy said.

Murphy said there’s an urgency to act given the recent Supreme Court ruling, but also expressed an openness to pursuing a bump stock ban through regular order.

The justices, in a sharply divided ruling, found the government overstepped its authority when it relied on a federal law that applies to machine guns.

In a 2017 letter dated days after the Las Vegas shooting, a group of Senate Republicans asked the Trump administration’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to review a past interpretation of federal law that allowed the devices to be sold.

The lawmakers asked for the review “given the function and capability of a semi-automatic rifle that is modified by a bump stock.”

“Unfortunately, we are all now keenly aware of how this device operates and believe that this renewed review and determination will keep our citizens safe and ensure that federal law is enforced,” the Republican senators wrote.

Lawmakers listed on the letter included Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Tim Scott, R-S.C.

Scott, during a TV interview that aired over the weekend, declined to directly answer whether he would support a ban on bump stocks. Instead, Scott said he’s “strongly in support of the Second Amendment” and then transitioned into comments about the southern border.

“We’re going to focus on the priorities of the American people. And what the priorities of the American people are today is to focus on closing our southern border,” Scott said.

Victor Feldman contributed to this report.