Our Opinion: Searching for hope after gun massacre

The National Rifle Association Thursday, reacting to the worst gun massacre in U.S. history, offered an encouraging suggestion going forward from this tragedy. The NRA went on to dilute that nugget of hope but it does offer something to grab onto in these troubled times.

NRA chiefs Wayne LaPierre and Chris Cox called for "additional regulations" for bump-stocks, which are devices designed to allow semi-automatic rifles to function like fully-automatic rifles. Authorities found 12 bump-stocks in the possession of Stephen Paddock, the gunman who killed 59 and injured more than 500 in Las Vegas Sunday night.

Ideally bump-stocks will be banned, as they are specifically designed to avoid federal regulations that govern the sale and use of automatic weapons. They enabled the Vegas gunman, who took his own life as police closed in on his hotel room overlooking a crowd attending a country music concert, to do a stunning amount of harm in a brief period of time.

It is encouraging that some congressional Republicans have said they will consider a ban on bump-stocks proposed Wednesday by Senator Diane Feinstein, a California Democrat. Hearings will be scheduled, which will provide an opportunity for foes of any kind of reform to work their dark magic on Congress. Breitbart News, the far-right website run by ousted White House strategist Stephen Bannon, has warned the president and congressional Republicans that Breitbart and its audience will not abide any compromises on guns. The vast majority of Americans who support reasonable gun regulations that are proven successes throughout the civilized world must make their voices heard loud and clear.

The NRA statement criticizing unnamed politicians who are supposedly calling in the wake of the Vegas attack for "banning guns from law-abiding Americans" is a cynical effort to anger gun-owners. Politicians aren't calling for a ban on guns nor will there be such a ban. Politicians do, however, want regulations that will cause fewer Americans to be killed and maimed by guns.

Unconscionably, the statement put in a plug for the NRA's pet proposal to expand gun-ownership nationally through right-to-carry reciprocity, which in essence would allow the weakest state regulations governing the carrying of concealed weapons to apply nationwide, overriding strict regulations in state like Massachusetts. Congress should hold firm against efforts to trigger even more gun violence in the wake of the most horrific gun massacre on record.

After every gun slaughter is heard the refrain that the nation doesn't need more gun regulations it needs to enforce the ones it has — which is a complete cop-out. The killer in Las Vegas had no criminal record and there is no evidence that his arsenal of 23 guns and rifles was accumulated illegally. Assault weapons can be bought legally in Nevada and so can bump-stocks. Paddock apparently built that arsenal through purchases in-person and online, and a national gun registry would have tipped off authorities that he was building an arsenal not needed for self-defense or hunting. Efforts to set up that registry failed during the Obama administration under the preposterous notion that it would make it easy for the president to send out thousands of federal agents to collect Americans' guns. Baseless conspiracy theories are a major hindrance to efforts to reduce the gun violence toll in America.

Gun law reform foes also assert that more must be done to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. This is true and it is unfortunate that Republican congressmen have hampered that effort. But the Las Vegas shooter had no record of mental illness that would have flagged his gun purchases.

Here in Massachusetts, which annually has one of the lowest rates of gun deaths, we can be proud of our strict gun laws. Assault weapons are banned but bump-stocks are not, and Representative David Linsky last week filed legislation to ban them. The state, however, is still at the mercy of those carrying in weapons from other states and of attempts in Washington to undermine state gun laws.

In the wake of the Las Vegas massacre, will Washington pass tough gun reform laws that are of no threat to sportsmen and responsible gun owners but may prevent another madman from launching another assault? It's difficult to be optimistic, and it is likely that organized gun groups will pressure the NRA to back off its overture, but the fate of efforts to regulate or ban bump-stocks will indicate if there is legitimate reason for hope. Otherwise Americans will be left to wait for the next inevitable massacre and hope that they and their loved ones are not in the line-of-sight.


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