Middletown — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Tuesday rolled out the first legislative initiative of his last year in office: A ban on the bump-stock accessories that enabled the Las Vegas shooter to convert a dozen semi-automatic rifles into machine guns he used in an assault that killed 58 and wounded 500 in 11 minutes.
Malloy, 62, a Democrat winding down two terms in office as one of the most unpopular incumbent governors in the U.S., said neither his lame-duck status nor Connecticut’s continuing budget issues would limit his agenda for the three-month General Assembly session that opens Feb. 7.
“I have had budget issues from the day I was elected,” said Malloy, who took office seven years ago facing a deficit of more than $3.6 billion. “I’ve proposed legislation. We have been successful in passing that legislation, and I anticipate we’ll be successful again.”
Standing in the lobby of the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection with law enforcement officials and gun-control advocates, Malloy outlined a plan to ban “rate-of-fire enhancements,” covering devices such as “bump stocks, binary trigger systems and trigger cranks.”
Until Stephen Paddock used bump stocks to drop a hail of 1,100 bullets onto concert-goers in the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, the devices were a little-known novelty, a device that was marketed as a source of entertainment for shooters who wanted to experience the thrill of automatic weapons fire.
“There is no legitimate reason to own a bump stock,” said Jeremy Stein, the executive director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence. “It is not used for hunting. It is not used for self-defense. It is a clever workaround state and federal laws to make a legal weapon of war.”
Machine guns are highly regulated in the U.S., requiring a special federal permit that limits their availability and makes them prohibitively expensive. Bump stocks cost as little as $100, though their prices have gone up since the Las Vegas shooting.
“Why pay $15,000 dollars for a full auto AR15 rifle when you can have the same fun bump firing the Slide Fire Stock on your rifle?” Atlantic Firearms says on its web site, referring to the name of its bump stock.
With a bump stock, the shooter keeps the trigger depressed and the recoil of the firearm will keep the weapon firing, approximating the same rate of fire as a machine gun. Trigger cranks, which are cheaper, allow a shooter to turn any semi-automatic into a mini-Gatling gun.
The devices are exotic — a leader of Connecticut’s largest gun owners group doesn’t know anyone who owns one — but banning them will not necessarily be without opposition.
“There aren’t many people that own these devices. I do not own one. I don’t personally know anyone who owns one,” said Scott Wilson, a co-founder of Connecticut Citizens Defense League. “We haven’t taken an official position, because we don’t know what the language will be.”
Wilson called the proposal “feel-good legislation” that would ban possession of what already is a rarity, continuing a conversation on gun control that firearms owners would like to see end.
“You go down a rabbit hole in perpetuity, talking limitations on things that should or shouldn’t be banned,” he said.
Malloy said no one is overstating the reach of a ban, but he has heard no reasonable rationale for opposition in state legislatures or in Congress.
Massachusetts banned bump stocks in November, just a month after the attack. About a half-dozen other states have followed suit. A ban in New Jersey has passed the legislature and is awaiting the governor’s signature.
“After the heartbreaking Sandy Hook mass shooting incident five years ago, Connecticut passed the second strongest gun laws in the nation under the leadership of Gov. Malloy,” said Po Murray, a leader of the gun-control group, the Newtown Action Alliance. “And it is time for Connecticut to act now to lead the nation once again by banning bump stocks and other dangerous accessories to keep our families and communities safe.”