Two decades before a secretive gambler lugged an arsenal that included 12 “bump stocks” into a Las Vegas hotel room and opened fire on concertgoers, a 40-something ex-Marine was tinkering in his Florida garage, looking for a fresh take on an old idea. Inspired by footage of the heavy recoil of anti-aircraft guns, Bill Akins wondered if he could design a device to harness a semi-automatic rifle’s recoil to fire bullets at a frequency near that of an automatic weapon, the Associated Press reports. For decades, gun owners had been bracing guns against their hips to increase the rate of their trigger pulls and enjoy the thrill of shooting something like a machine gun, a technique known as “bump firing.”
In 1996, Akins built an attachment to two different rifle stocks that did the same. He received a patent in 2000 and began selling what was known as the Akins Accelerator. The story of his invention, says the AP, “is a window on an obscure, do-it-yourself industry that helped create part of the arsenal used by Stephen Paddock, a 64-year-old with no formal military training, to carry out the worst mass shooting in modern American history.” The fate of the Akins Accelerator also sheds light on the political furor over whether bump stocks should be banned. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has said it only has the power to ban devices that, like machine guns, cause multiple bullets to be fired when the trigger is pulled. The agency has found that current bump stocks on the market only speed the triggering of a gun rather than convert it to shoot multiple bullets per pull, and therefore are legal.