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Guns win. Americans lose.

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Guns win. Americans lose.

Jun 21, 2024 | 10:00 am ET
By Ed Tibbetts
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Guns win. Americans lose.
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A 39mm round sits next a a 30-round magazine and an AK-47 with a bump stock installed at Good Guys Gun and Range in Orem, Utah, on Feb. 21, 2018. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)

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They sounded like they cared.

In the aftermath of a mad gunman’s horrifying massacre of 60 people at a concert in Las Vegas seven years ago, members of Congress from Iowa sent this message: It made no sense that bump stocks — the device that allows semi-automatic weapons to act like machine guns — could be legal under federal law.

Sen. Chuck Grassley said, “modifications to legal firearms that effectively convert them into something that the law prohibits certainly deserve scrutiny.”

Sen. Joni Ernst was one of nine GOP senators who asked the Trump administration to review an Obama-era finding that bump stocks were legal.

“I do think there can be some action,” Ernst said. “We’ve just got to figure out what that action is.”

Turns out, they figured out exactly what to do: Nothing.

Nothing is what they did seven years ago, and nothing is what they did again on Tuesday, when Democrats in the Senate tried to enact a bump stock ban a week after the Supreme Court overturned former President Trump’s administrative ban.

Big surprise. Guns win again. Americans lose.

Maybe we should have expected it.

Smart analysts at the time figured the gun lobby had a plan: Kick the issue to regulators in the Trump administration and thereby avoid what could have been a broader gun debate in Congress.

Sure enough, that’s what happened.

The Trump administration banned bump stocks, Congress ducked for cover, the ban got all balled up in the courts and, last week, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court overturned it.

Just like some folks figured was the plan all along.

By a 6-3 vote, the majority said a semi-automatic with a bump stock isn’t a machine gun under the law because it can’t fire more than one shot by “a single function of the trigger.”

Even if it could, the court said, it would not be automatic.

Essentially, the majority agreed with a previous finding by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which the Trump administration overturned.

Dissenters, led by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, accused the majority of ignoring the law’s ordinary meaning, ignoring their previous support for congressional intent — of essentially adopting the rationale that if a duck walks, swims and quacks like a duck, then it must be a chicken.

Still not all was lost.

Samuel Alito, the arch conservative justice, agreed that Congress’ intent was clear, even if the law didn’t say so.

In a concurring opinion, Alito wrote, “There is a simple remedy for the disparate treatment of bump stocks and machineguns. Congress can amend the law—and perhaps would have done so already if ATF had stuck with its earlier interpretation. Now that the situation is clear, Congress can act.”

I’m not sure if Alito is naïve or disingenuous. Or just a guy with a lifetime appointment who doesn’t have to worry about getting reelected.

The truth is, Congress won’t act.

On Tuesday, Republicans blocked the Democrats’ attempt to do what Alito suggested — to ban bump stocks.

Supporters of the measure reminded lawmakers of the bloody carnage in Las Vegas, the dozens of dead and the hundreds of people who were injured in the rapid-fire of bullets and chaos.

Republican critics complained that the Democrats’ plan did more than just ban bump stocks.

Perhaps. But does anybody really believe if a clean ban on bump stocks were to be presented to congressional Republicans, they would pass it?

The Washington Examiner reported that some Republicans are interested. Perhaps a few, but surely not enough. Interestingly, the Examiner quoted Joni Ernst as saying the Supreme Court got the decision right.

Seven years ago, Grassley was chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and while he deferred to the Trump administration’s regulatory effort to limit bump stocks, he said if it failed, he’d be willing to consider legislation.

Well, senator … we’re waiting.

I’m not naïve. I don’t think anything will get done. Democrats don’t have the power, and Republicans don’t have the will.

Trump even denies these days he ever did anything to restrict guns at all and was just following the NRA’s lead.

The truth is, the moment is gone.

Those 60 people killed in Las Vegas have long since been buried. The horror has passed. The public demand for action has quieted.

Those seven-year-old quotes from Grassley and Ernst are in the archives.

Guns win again. Americans lose.

This column was originally published by Ed Tibbetts’ Along the Mississippi newsletter on Substack. It is republished here through the Iowa Writers’ Collaborative.

Editor’s note: Please consider subscribing to the collaborative and the authors’ blogs to support their work.

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