The National Rifle Association joined the Trump administration and top congressional Republicans Thursday in a swift and surprising embrace of a restriction on Americans' guns, though a narrow one: to regulate the "bump stock" devices the Las Vegas shooter apparently used to horrifically lethal effect.
The devices, originally intended to help people with disabilities, fit over the stock and grip of a semi-automatic rifle and allow the weapon to fire continuously, some 400 to 800 rounds in a single minute. Bump stocks were found among the gunman's weapons and explain why victims in Las Vegas heard what sounded like automatic-weapons fire as the shooter rained bullets from a casino high-rise, slaughtering 58 people in a concert below and wounding hundreds more.
Thursday's endorsements of controls came almost simultaneously from the NRA and the White House.
The NRA, which famously opposes virtually any hint of new restrictions, said in a statement: "The National Rifle Association is calling on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) to immediately review whether these devices comply with federal law. The NRA believes that devices designed to allow semi-automatic rifles to function like fully automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations."
Moments after, at the White House, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders praised the announcement.
"We welcome that and a conversation on that," Sanders said. "It's something we're very open to."
House Speaker Paul Ryan also added his voice to a growing chorus of leading Republicans showing a surprising willingness to take a step, however narrow, in the direction of regulating guns.
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The killer in Las Vegas apparently used the legal bump stock devices on legal rifles, essentially converting them into automatic weapons. That allowed him to spray gunfire into the crowd below much more quickly, with lethal results, exposing what some lawmakers said looked like a loophole in gun laws.
"I didn't even know what they were until this week, and I'm an avid sportsman, so I think we're quickly coming up to speed with what this is," Ryan said in an interview on MSNBC. "Fully automatic weapons have been banned for a long time. Apparently this allows you to take a semi-automatic and turn it into a fully automatic so clearly that's something that we need to look into."
The No. 2 Senate Republican, John Cornyn of Texas, has made similar comments, as have other Republicans. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., introduced a bill Wednesday to ban the devices, and a companion measure has been introduced in the House.
The NRA had begun talking with lawmakers behind the scenes. GOP Rep. Bill Flores of Texas said Thursday that he got a concerned call from the NRA after expressing his support on Wednesday for regulating bump stocks.
Flores declined to detail the conversation, which he said took place between the NRA and his chief of staff, but reiterated his view: "Automatic weapons are subject to licensure, and if there's something that makes another type of weapon behave as an automatic weapon it ought to be subject to that same licensure."
"We as a nation need to look at that particular issue," he said.
The chairmen of the judiciary committees in the House and Senate have indicated openness to learning more about the issue, but without committing to holding hearings.
"If you're going to have a meaningful hearing, you've got to know what your hearing is about. The investigation into the Las Vegas shooting is still ongoing, and we need to get more information before making a decision on a hearing and what it might cover," said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa.
President Donald Trump says his administration will be reviewing bump-stock regulations.
Ahead of a dinner with senior military leaders at the White House Thursday evening, Trump responded to questions about possibly restricting bump-stock sales. "We'll be looking into that over the next short period of time," he said.
It's not yet clear whether, having opened the door to cracking down on weapons, Republicans will actually walk through it. Inaction has been the norm for the GOP following other mass shootings in the past, including the Sandy Hook, Connecticut, massacre of schoolchildren five years ago, last year's bloodbath at the Pulse nightclub in Florida, and a baseball field shooting this year in which House Majority Whip Steve Scalise came close to death.