Some legislators see the legal manufacture and use of bump stocks — found on 12 of the 23 guns in the Las Vegas gunman’s Mandalay Bay hotel room — as a loophole in firearms regulation.
State Sen. Michael Williams, a Republican candidate in Georgia’s gubernatorial primary, recently came out against any legislation banning the devices, which can be attached to a semiautomatic weapon to simulate the rate of fire of a fully automatic weapon.
To stress his point, he announced he would give away a bump stock to a random person who enters a giveaway event.
We looked into the claim that the gunman would have hurt fewer people if the bump stock not boosted his ability to fire rapidly. Is this a popular expert opinion?
We reached out to Williams and his campaign but received no response.
The campaign has previously pointed to a post from Legally Armed America written by Paul Glasco, who reviews guns and gun products, that argued a ban on bump fire stocks would be useless to prevent these kind of attacks.
We talked to five experts who said Williams is factually correct on one point about bump stocks: Because they use a weapon’s recoil to enable the user to fire rapidly and repeatedly, their use makes the weapon more difficult to control when firing. This decreases its accuracy.
Two experts supportive of gun rights, United States Concealed Carry Association president Tim Schmidt and lawyer John Pierce, were not convinced bump stocks would have made the crime more deadly. They agreed that a more accurate weapon could have hurt more people, but they needed more information about the crime to come to a conclusion.
But three of the five experts said the rapid gunfire, not precise aim, is likely what made the Las Vegas shooting so devastating.
Adam Winkler, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who specializes in firearms, said the use of a semiautomatic weapon without a bump stock would have made a difference if the gunman was trying to hurt a specific person. But, “when you don’t care who you hit, being a little more inaccurate doesn’t matter.”
To be fair, Arthur Alphin, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and West Point graduate, told the Los Angeles Times that accuracy did matter, but so did the rapid fire. The weapon could have been held steady with a bipod, which was found in the gunman’s room.
If he had been trained by military or law enforcement, an unaltered semiautomatic weapon could have been more harmful than one with a bump stock, said Rick Vasquez, a former assistant chief and acting chief of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ firearms technology branch.
But given his lack of formal training and the fact that the crowd at the Route 91 Harvest music festival was somewhat blocked in, “any device that is going to spray a lot of ammunition is going to be more deadly,” Vasquez said.
“He was shooting into a densely packed crowd of thousands of people,” said Gary Kleck, a criminologist from Florida State University who studies the effects of guns on injuries and death in crimes. “The main effect of using bump stocks in this particular situation was to increase the number of rounds the shooter could fire in a short period of time before police crashed into his hotel room, which increased the numbers of victims hit somewhat randomly.”
The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation.
Outside of a blog from a pro-gun rights group, we did not find “many firearms experts” making the argument Williams cited.
We did learn that bump stocks tend to affect a weapon’s accuracy. But we found several firearms experts who attributed the high number of people injured and killed to the shooter’s ability to fire rapidly, which a bump stock would have amplified.
We rate this statement False.
“Many firearms experts determined the Las Vegas shooter’s use of a bump stock actually prevented more casualties and (injuries) due to its inconsistency, inaccuracy, and lack of control.”
— Georgia State Sen. Michael Williams on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017 in press release