James Weldon Johnson is most well-known for writing the lyrics to the Black National Anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing”. Yet, Johnson was also a lawyer, civil rights activist and an author. In his book of poetry entitled God’s Trombones, he began his poem about the Prodigal Son with these words, “Young Man, Young man – your arm is too short to box with God.” Many of us have heard that phrase from the mouths of our grandparents or elders when we questioned life’s circumstances; why did this happen, and why to me. It was their way of saying some things, are simply beyond our control.
So naturally, in looking at the tragedy that unfolded in Las Vegas, Nevada, last week, countless people are asking, “what can we do about this?” Like many of you, I watched in horror as media outlets relayed the attack on 22,000 concert-goers that culminated with 58 deaths and over 500 others being wounded. The thought that the gunman, Stephen Paddock, was able to level this amount of destruction in roughly nine to 11 minutes of gunfire was unthinkable. In listening to audio of the shooting, it became clear that there was something different about the weaponry used in the attack. We have since learned that semi-automatic rifles used by the sniper had been retrofitted with something called “bump-fire stocks” or simply “bump stocks”. This $40 device, once attached, enables a shooter to fire bullets rapidly, similar to an automatic rifle. And it’s legal!
According to a description in The Telegraph, the device basically replaces the gun’s shoulder rest, with a “support step” that covers the trigger opening. By holding the pistol grip with one hand and pushing forward on the barrel with the other, the shooter’s finger comes in contact with the trigger. The recoil causes the gun to buck back and forth, “bumping” the trigger. So technically, that means the finger is pulling the trigger for each round fired, keeping the weapon a LEGAL semiautomatic. However, the resulting damage is the same, with these modified rifles able to fire anywhere from 400 to 800 rounds per minute.
I have been clear in my belief in the protections afforded by the 2nd Amendment. I have also been vocal about the need to take steps to ensure responsible gun ownership. Conceal carry should come with licensing and training requirements. Universal background checks and microstamping bullets are common sense measures. But stopping the use of “bump-fire stocks” should be a no-brainer. The purchase of fully automatic weapons have been restricted for more than 80 years in this country and in 1986 further restrictions were placed on those already in circulation.
Changing the hearts and minds of those intent on doing harm, is a problem our arms are likely not long enough to wrap themselves around. But we can do something to make it more difficult to produce the level of casualties seen in Las Vegas. We can control and should make the use of “bump stocks” illegal.