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Congress, ATF play hot potato with bump stock restrictions

Kate Irby, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON -- Two days into the grief after yet another mass shooting in the United States, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, talked Tuesday about some areas of legislative consensus between Democrats and Republicans on gun issues.

Not on his list: banning or restricting bump stocks, the devices that Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock attached to the firearms he used to kill 58 people on Oct. 1, turning them into virtual machine guns. Cornyn punted on the issue, as many congressional Republicans have been doing since shortly after the tragedy, the biggest mass shooting in American history.

According to the Texas senator, it will be up to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to explain at a Judiciary Committee hearing why the agency believes it can't take action on its own. The panel's chairman, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said last week he would call a hearing on bump stocks featuring ATF officials; he reiterated that Monday, but no date has been set.

Immediately following the Vegas shooting, Republicans and Democrats alike seemed open to a possible ban on bump stocks. Even the National Rifle Association said in a statement that bump stocks "should be subject to additional regulations." Bills were introduced with support from lawmakers in both parties.

The NRA, however, soon made it clear it only supported additional regulations from ATF, not new legislation in Congress; Republican leaders such as Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., soon circulated the same message, and the matter was kicked to the agency.

But ATF has repeatedly told Congress that it doesn't have the authority to regulate bump stocks, also known as bump slides, without additional legislation.

And so the faceoff goes.

Cornyn said he hoped that ATF officials would explain their logic at the hearing.

"I think we'll learn from that hearing if we should legislate on it," Cornyn said, calling the issue a "regulatory gap" but not specifying who he believed had the authority to regulate -- Congress or the ATF.

There have been no reports that the Sutherland Springs, Texas, shooter Devin Kelley used a bump stock in the Sunday attack that killed 26 people.

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