SIOUX CITY | Owners of Siouxland gun shops expect a run on bump stocks, a little-known gun accessory now associated with the largest mass shooting in U.S. history.
Created with the idea of making it easier for people with disabilities to fire a weapon, the plastic or metal attachment allows a semi-automatic rifle to mimic a fully automatic weapon by unleashing an entire large magazine in mere seconds.
A dozen guns found in Stephan Paddock's Las Vegas hotel room were fitted with bump stocks, according to a special agent for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms. The discovery helped explain how witnesses at an outdoor country music concert on the Vegas Strip Sunday night heard what sounded like automatic-weapons fire raining down on the crowd from a nearby casino high-rise. Paddock shot and killed 58 people and wounded hundreds of others before turning a gun on himself, just moments before a SWAT team stormed into his hotel room.
Owners of Siouxland gun shops say they've seen sales of firearms or specific accessories escalate after high-profile shootings as calls grow louder for tighter gun regulations. That happened again last week after investigators publicly released details of the shooting in Nevada.
"You can't get any right now," Paul Barrett, owner of Shooter's Paradise at 904 Morningside Ave. in Sioux City, said of bump stocks. "After what happened and what (the shooter) had, every time something like this happens, people want what they think is going to be cut out or taken away from."
Chase Cejka, co-owner of American Brothers in Arms, said his store at 4108 Morningside Ave. typically sells 10 to 15 bump stocks a year. The price for the devices, which typically runs around $150, jumped to more than twice that last week to as much as $500. The increase came amid growing signs the federal government may regulate or even ban the controversial attachments.
The National Rifle Association, which typically opposes measures it sees as weakening or violating the 2nd Amendment, has called on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives "to immediately review whether these devices comply with federal law.” In a statement Friday, the nation’s largest gun rights group said it believes that devices “should be subject to additional regulations."
Moments afterwards, White House, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders praised the announcement. House Speaker Paul Ryan added his support, as have other top Republicans. Democratic members of Congress have called for an outright ban on bump stocks, along with a number of other gun control initiatives.
Cejka said he was a little surprised the NRA came forward after the federal government gave its seal of approval to bump stocks in 2010, concluding they were an accessory rather than a firearm subject to ATF regulations.
“ATF wasn’t worried about it then, so I would be hard-pressed to think anything will come of this,” he said. “Are they going to review it again? Yeah, probably. I mean what does it take to send a couple agents down to read our rules again and see if they stand the same. That’s what I think is going to happen. They are going to look at it and say it is exactly the same law. In my mind, to deem this a machine gun, you will have to rewrite the laws of machine guns and what it says ...”
A fully automatic firearm, commonly known as a machine gun, is extremely difficult to buy. A 1986 federal law prohibits civilians from possessing newly made machine guns. Those made before 1986 are allowed, but they can cost $20,000 on the private market, and requires special permission from the Treasury Department, a process that includes an FBI background check and approval from the buyer's local police department.
While critics say bump stocks offer a cheap and simple alternative to a fully automatic weapon without the hassle of a rigorous background check and other restrictions, Cejka said the attachment is designed to make a gun more inaccurate and more prone to jamming.
The device replaces a gun's stock and pistol grip, allowing a user to fire more than once per trigger pull, as the gun bucks back and forth, repeatedly "bumping" the trigger against the shooter's finger.
Cejka said he considers a bump stock a "novelty item" that can fit onto any AR-15 or AK-47 rifles.
"This is just a piece of plastic that goes on a gun," he said. “The AR consumer, for the most part, just buys one to shoot it for recreation."
While the cost of the device itself is somewhat inexpensive, a gun fitted with a bump stock can be expensive to use. The attachment enables a rifle to fire 400 to 800 rounds per minute. At roughly 32 cents per round, that is $128 to $256 per minute in ammunition, according to firearms experts.
Some experts also point out that some gun ranges, including the one at the NRA’s own headquarters, ban semi-automatic weapons with bump stocks due to safety concerns.
It’s unclear how many bump stocks have been sold nationally. Listings for the devices had been seen on websites for Walmart and Cabela’s, two of the nation’s largest gun retailers, the Associated Press reported. But those listings were no longer on either company’s website on Wednesday. Walmart said in a statement that it pulled the devices after determining they violated a “prohibited items policy” and never should have been offered for sale. Cabela’s did not return messages to the AP seeking comment.
Some local gun shop owners pointed out that banning bump stocks would not bring an end to mass casualties happening in the future.
“They are a piece of equipment. They don't kill people. Crazy people kill people," said Bob Farmer, owner of The Shooting Shop in Anthon, Iowa. "Whether you are going to use a bomb or run a car through a crowd of people; there's no sense to any of it. Unfortunately, the gun industry takes the brunt of it every time."