The number I keep coming back to isn’t 59, the number of people killed in last week’s mass shooting in Las Vegas. It isn’t more than 500, the number of people who were injured, either.
To be sure, both of those numbers are horrific. But the number I can’t stop thinking about is 47. That’s how many guns the shooter owned, including 33 acquired in the past year. He smuggled 23 of them into that hotel room and used them to commit the deadliest mass shooting perpetrated by a single person in recent American history.
These are all striking numbers, but the gun lobby and pro-gun politicians were quick to latch on to a different number: 12. That’s how many “bump stocks” investigators found attached to the shooter’s weapons in the hotel room. Briefly, a bump stock is a tool that can be attached to a semi-automatic weapon in order to increase its rate of fire, making it more like an automatic weapon. The Las Vegas shooter used these devices in his attack to kill with greater efficiency.
Texas Sen. John Cornyn was among the first high-profile Republicans to open the door to banning bump stocks in the aftermath of the shooting. He was later joined by eight other Republican senators, and on Thursday the National Rifle Association added its voice, calling for additional regulations on the devices.
After so many mass shootings have been met with inaction from Congress, these developments might seem encouraging. But in truth, they represent a political tactic meant to substitute the tiniest possible gun control measure for any semblance of real change.
That’s not to say that banning bump stocks is a bad idea. It’s a good idea: All they do is make deadly weapons even more dangerous. And the technique of bump firing can be employed without the use of a special device.
In fact, banning bump stocks is such a good idea that Sen. Dianne Feinstein proposed it way back in 2013 as part of wider ranging piece of gun control legislation. At the time, Cornyn dismissed the bill wholesale, calling it “a solution in search of a problem” and saying that the law would have “zero effect.” The NRA was even more dead set against the bill, going so far as to question Feinstein’s motivations for introducing it.
In fairness, the bill contained plenty of measures that both Cornyn and the NRA have consistently opposed for years, including a ban on assault weapons. Nevertheless, they’ve only just now joined the cause of banning bump stocks, and it’s not hard to figure out why. Drawing attention to bump stocks distracts from issues opponents of gun control would rather not discuss.
Here are just a few of those issues. First, a system that allows someone to amass such an immense stockpile so quickly without triggering any alarms is clearly broken. Second, 30 percent of U.S. adults own guns. Third, owning a gun triples your chances of killing yourself and doubles your chances of killing someone else. Fourth, the United States has the highest rate of gun violence of any developed country in the world.
But that’s not a conversation that pro-gun politicians like Cornyn want to have, and it’s certainly not a conversation that the gun lobbyists wants to have. Instead, they want us to talk about bump stocks. And we will. With some luck, we might do the bare minimum and actually ban these devices. But don’t hold your breath.
Groves is a philosophy junior from Dallas.