As the gun debate rages across the country, there have been many proposals about what should be done to address the mass shootings that are bringing unprecedented sorrow and anxiety to our schools and other public places.
It’s a very complicated and emotional issue that shows little hope of consensus anytime soon. But there’s one area where we can make strides, and we can do it soon.
On the night of Oct. 1, 2017, a gunman opened fire on a crowd of concertgoers at the Route 91 Harvest music festival on the Las Vegas Strip in Nevada, slaughtering 58 innocent people and injuring another 851 concert goers.
Between 10:05 and 10:15 p.m., 64-year-old Stephen Paddock of Mesquite, Nevada, fired more than 1,100 rounds from his suite on the 32nd floor of the nearby Mandalay Bay hotel. About an hour after he fired his last shot into the crowd, he was found dead in his room from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. His motive remains unknown.
The incident is the deadliest mass shooting committed by an individual in the United States. It reignited the debate about gun laws in the U.S., with attention focused on bump fire stocks, which Paddock used to allow his semi-automatic rifles to fire at a rate similar to that of a fully automatic weapon.
Twelve of the rifles in the gunman’s possession were modified with a bump stock, allowing the weapon to fire about 90 shots in 10 seconds — a much faster rate than the AR-15 style assault rifle used by the Orlando Nightclub shooter, which fired about 24 shots in nine seconds.
A bump stock is an attachment that allows the shooter to fire a semi-automatic weapon with great rapidity. It replaces a rifle’s standard stock, freeing the weapon to slide back and forth rapidly, harnessing the energy from the kickback shooters feel when the weapon fires.
While bump stocks are illegal to use in Rhode Island, they are not illegal to own. That’s why we, along with Sen. James A. Seveney (D-Dist. 11, Portsmouth, Bristol, Tiverton), have introduced legislation (2018-S 2271, 2018-H 7075) that would make possession or use of semi-automatic weapon rapid fire devices punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment and/or a 10,000 fine.
In addition to bump stocks, it would outlaw the binary trigger, which is a semi-automatic weapon's trigger designed to fire one round on the pull of the trigger and another round upon release of the trigger. It would also outlaw triggers cranks, which are actuators that attach to the trigger of a semi-automatic weapon and cause the weapon to fire by turning the crank handle.
All of these devices exist for one reason alone: to kill as many people as quickly as possible. They have no purpose in hunting or defense.
Currently there is some ambiguity to whether or not applying a bump stock to one’s weapon is legal in Rhode Island, but it is still legal to purchase one. This bill will end that practice, making the sale and possession of bump stocks, even if they are not affixed to a weapon, illegal and punishable by the full extent of the law.
This legislation would not apply to the purchase of any such device by the Rhode Island State Police, by any city or town police department of the state of Rhode Island, or by the Department of Environmental Management for display as a part of a firearms training course under its auspices.
We may never reach complete agreement on what must be done to address the epidemic of mass shootings, but we can certainly take this step to outlaw these efficient machines of death, which serve no purpose outside of mass murder.
Senator Sheehan represents District 36 in the state Senate. Representative Craven represents District 32 in the House of Representatives. They both reside in North Kingstown.