The National Rifle Association unexpectedly joined an effort to restrict a device used to accelerate gunfire in the Las Vegas massacre, the Washington Post reports. The NRA’s announcement gave political cover to a growing number of Republicans who have indicated a willingness to consider regulating “bump stocks,” devices that allow a legal semiautomatic rifle to mimic the rapid discharge of a fully automatic weapon. “The NRA believes that devices designed to allow semi-automatic rifles to function like fully-automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations,” the groups said. Law enforcement officials have said that Las Vegas gunman Stephen Paddock fired weapons outfitted with bump stocks Sunday, leaving 58 dead and hundreds injured in a matter of minutes. Experts have said that audio of the attack makes clear that the shooter unleashed a torrent of bullets faster than he could have fired without adapting his rifles.
As the largest U.S. gun rights group, the NRA exerts considerable influence among conservative voters who support the organization, and on the GOP’s approach to gun policy. Many Republicans have operated under the fear that opposing NRA positions could lead to primary challenges. Public opinion is also on the minds of Republicans as they head into a midterm election year that is expected to be contentious. Regulating bump stocks could help the party combat perceptions that it has done nothing to address the mass shootings. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said of the massacre, “Americans are horrified by it. They’re horrified, and they should be.” Even after the group’s announcement Thursday, only a handful of Republicans had stepped forward to consider examining bump stocks. NRA CEO Wayne La Pierre opposed further gun controls, telling Fox News that, “If legislation worked, [the] Boston massacre wouldn’t have [happened], San Bernardino, where California has every gun law on the books, that wouldn’t have happened.”