The device that allowed the Las Vegas gunman to use his rifles like machine guns, firing hundreds of rounds per minute, cannot be found on the shelves of North Coast gun shops, and has now become the focus of a rare bipartisan call for new gun controls.
Years before Stephen Paddock launched an unrelenting 10-minute attack on a crowd at country music festival, local firearms dealers decided they didn’t want to sell so-called “bump stock” attachments.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has said the device does not violate federal laws. Their legal status is murkier in California, which has some of the most stringent restrictions on firearms in the country but does not explicitly ban the aftermarket accessory.
The most common model, made by Texas-based Slide Fire Solutions, has been sold since 2010. Local gun dealers, however, said they have no interest in selling them.
[pullquote: We almost at one point carried bump stocks . . . we just felt they were way too dangerous for people to have.]
“We almost at one point carried those (bump stocks) made by Slide Fire,” said Chris Ostrom, whose family operates Pacific Outfitters recreation stores in Mendocino and Humboldt counties. “We just felt they were way too dangerous for people to have.”
The bump stock replaces a rifle’s standard stock, and it uses the weapon’s recoil energy to allow for rapid fire while the trigger is depressed — with the stock “bumping” between the shooter’s shoulder and trigger finger.
Paddock, of Mesquite, Nevada, installed bump stocks on a dozen semiautomatic rifles authorities later found in his hotel room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. From two broken windows, Paddock leveraged the rapid-fire action to kill 59 people and injure another 489 in just 10 minutes, authorities said.
The massacre has renewed bipartisan calls to ban the device, legislation that the National Rifle Association on Thursday signaled it could support. Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein proposed legislation this week to ban bump stocks and other devices created to accelerate a gun’s rate of fire.
Automatic weapons have been illegal for more than three decades. But bump stocks alter the firing mechanism of semi-automatic weapons, which are legal, enabling shooters to fire at rates between 400 and 800 rounds per minute, according to Feinstein’s office.
“The only reason to fire so many rounds so fast is to kill large numbers of people,” Feinstein said in a statement announcing the proposed bill. “No one should be able to easily and cheaply modify legal weapons into what are essentially machine guns.”
[pullquote: The only reason to fire so many rounds so fast is to kill large numbers of people . . no one should be able to easily and cheaply modify legal weapons into what are essentially machine guns.]
While not explicitly banned by California law, local retailers said they opted against carrying bump stocks long before Sunday’s massacre in Las Vegas. The reasons include an aversion to aftermarket tools that haven’t been certified and tested by manufacturers with the same rigor as factory model products.
Retailers also said they didn’t want to sell a product that makes a weapon harder to aim and potentially more destructive.
“Our dealership doesn’t sell them nor do we recommend them to our customers,” said Brian Thomson, manager and director of training with Rinkor Arms in Santa Rosa. “I don’t believe there are any (firearm) instructors out there that would recommend using them.”
Rinkor Arms counts most Sonoma County law enforcement agencies as its clients and about 40 percent of the company’s business is law enforcement. Its training program is run by former law enforcement and military officers.
Thomson said the company is careful to recommend safe, vetted firearms and accessories and won’t recommend products questionable under California law.
“Modifications are limitless. They can turn a legal product into an illegal one or a safe product into an unsafe one,” Thomson said.
Don Schmidt, who runs Schmidt Firearms in Santa Rosa, said he doesn’t know if bump stocks are legal in California but he wouldn’t sell them even if they were.
“When I saw one a couple years ago I said, ‘No way,’ ” Schmidt said. “Because I know what they’ll do.”
Widely available online and in other states, bump stocks on Thursday were selling for as much as $1,680 on gunbroker.com. Slide Fire has “temporarily suspended taking new orders in order to provide the best service with those already placed,” according to the company’s website.
Private firearms instructor Tom Freyslaben said fully automatic weapons may be appropriate in a military scenario but he cannot see the value of rapid- fire functionality for civilians, even as sport. It would be an expensive hobby — he estimated it costs $7 for three seconds worth of ammunition.
Freyslaben runs a marksmanship training program out of his Santa Rosa house, teaching mostly women the ins and outs of handguns and shotguns. They start without ammunition and then advance to a shooting range in Ukiah.
“Just because you’re allowed to buy one doesn’t mean you know what the hell to do with it — I’m not in favor of them,” Freyslaben said. “Shooting guns accurately is not simple. And that device doesn’t allow you to shoot accurately.”
Still, Freyslaben is not convinced further restrictions on firearms is the answer, because he says humans will always invent workarounds. Case in point: The bump stock.
“If the human wants to do it, he will,” Freyslaben said. “You want to ban this thing, the gun people are going to laugh and say, ‘Go ahead, if that’s what silences the current roar.’ ”
You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or firstname.lastname@example.org.