LAS VEGAS — The National Rifle Association on Thursday endorsed tighter restrictions on devices that allow a rifle to fire bullets as fast as a machine gun — a rare, if small, step for a group that for years has vehemently opposed any new gun controls.
Twelve of the rifles the Las Vegas gunman, Stephen Paddock, had in a high-rise hotel suite when he opened fire on a crowd Sunday were outfitted with bump stocks, devices that allow a semi-automatic rifle to fire hundreds of rounds per minute, which may explain how he was able to shoot so quickly, killing 58 people and wounding hundreds of others. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has ruled that bump stocks do not violate laws that tightly limit ownership of machine guns, and some lawmakers have called for them to be banned.
The bureau should revisit the issue and “immediately review whether these devices comply with federal law,” the NRA said in a statement released Thursday. “The NRA believes that devices designed to allow semi-automatic rifles to function like fully automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations.”
On Capitol Hill, support appeared to grow for a ban on the bump stock devices, either through regulation or legislation, as Republicans — who for decades have rejected any form of gun restrictions — began increasingly to speak out. Several leading Republicans, including Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, have raised serious questions about the devices.
In the House, Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., has drafted a measure banning bump stocks, which he said he planned to introduce on Thursday. He said his office had been “flooded” with calls from dozens of fellow Republicans who wanted to sign on.
“I think we are on the verge of a breakthrough when it comes to sensible gun policy,” Curbelo said.
His comments followed those of House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who during an interview with MSNBC also raised questions about the conversion kits, and said he was open to legislation. “Clearly that’s something we need to look into,” Ryan said.
Separately, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., is circulating a letter among his colleagues, calling on the ATF to re-evaluate bump stocks, which he said have “no place in civilized society.”
Of the 489 people injured in the shooting, 317 have been discharged from hospitals and about 50 are in critical condition.
Chief Greg Cassell of the Clark County Fire Department said Thursday that several factors complicated the department’s response to the mass shooting, but he praised the emergency responders as heroic.
“We had a lot of challenges with this event,” Cassell said at a news conference. Wounded concertgoers fled to various hotels and called 911 from there, he said. “By the time it got relayed, it was ‘There’s a shooter at this location,'” he said. “It was, ‘People were shot.'”
Typically, all 911 calls from a single event would be linked, he said. But because of the confusion Sunday night, operators logged the calls as coming from 32 separate incidents, each of which needed to be investigated. Cassell said they wondered, “Are we under a Mumbai-style attack, where we’ve got multiple things going on at multiple properties?”
He was referring to a group of coordinated terror attacks in Mumbai, India, in November 2008, when gunmen stormed two hotels, a railroad station, a restaurant, a hospital and a Jewish center; 160 people were killed.
Cassell said that as crews were heading to the concert area in Las Vegas, they encountered injured people in every direction, so they stopped, aided those patients and called for more help, rather than continuing on to the site of the shooting.
He said a total of 160 members of local fire departments responded to the emergency. Only one was hurt, suffering a minor injury from a fall.
“We’ve been somewhat planning on a major event in our valley for an awful, awful long time along these lines,” he said. “We never planned on what happened the other night.”
Investigators on Wednesday confirmed that the gunman had left a note inside his suite at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. “It was not a suicide note — I’m comfortable saying that,” Sheriff Joseph Lombardo of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department said.
The gunman’s motive remains unknown, Lombardo said. Despite the meticulous planning that went into the attack, the gunman left behind few obvious traces, with no social media footprint to examine or manifesto to be pored over, he said.
The sheriff indicated that Paddock may have blended in intentionally, hiding the urge to violence that drove him to one of the deadliest mass shootings in modern U.S. history.
“Anything that would indicate this individual’s trigger point, that would cause him to do such harm, we haven’t understood it yet,” the sheriff said. “Don’t you think the concealment of his history, of his life, was well-thought-out?”
Investigators continue to piece together the life and mindset of a gunman who had no apparent prior history of violence. “What we know is Stephen Paddock is a man who spent decades acquiring weapons and ammo and living a secret life, much of which will never be fully understood,” the sheriff said.
Lombardo said that a few days before the shooting, the gunman took another set of rooms in a high-rise building near another music festival. Through Airbnb, he rented a unit in the Ogden, a condominium building in downtown Las Vegas with a view of the Life is Beautiful festival, held from Sept. 22-25.
At least three of the rifles Paddock had in his luxury suite on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino were equipped with scopes.