Has the NRA changed its position on gun control?

Has the NRA changed its position on gun control?

Has the NRA changed its position on gun control?

Updated 6 October 2017, 21:20 AEDT

America's most powerful gun lobby says "bump stocks" need tougher regulation.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) has announced devices that allow semi-automatic rifles to function like fully automatic ones need tougher regulation after bump stocks were used by Las Vegas gunman Stephen Paddock.

It was a surprising move, given how the powerful US gun lobby has been leading the fight against new gun controls since the massacre at Newtown's Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2013, when 20 children and six adults were killed.

So was this a strategic move designed to avoid further gun control?

Here's what we know.

The NRA wants the devices to be regulated

What is a bump stock?

A bump stock basically replaces a 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 and firing rounds much faster than if the shooter were to manually pull the trigger each time.

The stock effectively turns a semi-automatic weapon into a fully automatic one that can unleash continuous rounds until the magazines are empty with a single trigger pull.

The NRA's top two leaders, Wayne LaPierre and Chris Cox, said they supported the regulation of devices such as bump stocks, in what was the organisation's first statement since a shooting rampage on Sunday night in Las Vegas killed 58 people and left nearly 500 injured.

The most deadly mass shooting in modern US history reignited debate around regulation of firearms — particularly the regulation of bump stocks.

A number of politicians have been calling for a review with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) ruling bump stocks do not violate current laws, which limit ownership of machine guns.

Is this different to what they've said in the past?

In the wake of last year's massacre in an Orlando nightclub, which at the time was the deadliest mass shooting in US modern history, Republicans and their allies in the NRA fought Democratic proposals to restrict guns, arguing they were too restrictive and trampled on the constitutional right to bear arms.

In 2015, the group's executive in Texas came under fire for suggesting a pastor at a Methodist church in Charleston, where nine members of his congregation were slain, bore some of the blame for his opposition to permitting concealed handguns in church.

In 2013, the NRA helped to block a bill in the US senate to expand background checks for gun buyers, which was introduced in response to the Newtown massacre.

In 2012, it emphatically ruled out supporting greater controls on weapons or ammunition in the US after the Sandy Hook primary school massacre in Connecticut, describing the legislation as "phony" and stating they would not support the idea of banning high-capacity-ammunition magazines.

Is it a reversal?

You'd be forgiven for thinking it might be, given how the group has traditionally resisted any attempts to tighten America's gun laws.

But the issue of gun accessories is less cut and dried, and this move from the NRA suggests the lobby group could be attempting to separate the two issues.

In its statement, the NRA continued to advocate for less gun regulation, calling for Congress to pass a law easing concealed carry laws.

Under the legislation, gun owners with a concealed carry permit in one state would be allowed to legally carry nationally.

Yet, it drew a firm line on gun accessories like the bump stock, asking the administration to revisit a 2010 ATF ruling — made during the Obama administration — that allowed the sale of such accessories.

So, is it distancing itself from the issue?

The reference to previous ATF rulings in the NRA's statement suggests the group is emphasising it is not to blame.

"In Las Vegas, reports indicate that certain devices were used to modify the firearms involved," it said.

"Despite the fact that the Obama administration approved the sale of bump fire stocks on at least two occasions, the National Rifle Association is calling on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) to immediately review whether these devices comply with federal law."

Instead, just as the Trump administration did in its statement, it suggests bump stocks are a legacy of the Obama administration.

They also stopped short of asking Congress to consider it

CNN and other local media were also quick to point out the NRA's calls for the BATFE to, "immediately review whether these devices comply with federal law".

Why would the NRA call on the ATF to act and not Congress?

It could be because the ATF has come out and said it doesn't have jurisdiction over gun accessories.

But it is also possible any bill debating gun reform, even something as limited as looking at a particular device, could prove dangerous to the interests of the lobby group.

"It's the equivalent of opening Pandora's box — not just in terms of how the legislation might wind up looking but also in terms of public attention being paid to gun laws," CNN editor Chris Cillizza wrote.

Politicians in favour of gun-control and drawn-out media attention could turn the issue into something bigger, causing a much bigger headache for the NRA in the long run.

So, is this just a strategic move?

It is hard to say. As a powerful lobby group, the NRA are pretty politically savvy.

A number of Republicans have come out in favour of reviewing gun accessories, showing signs bi-partisanship — at least on this issue — could be achieved.

At the very least, by advocating for a review, the NRA have avoided the possibility of clashing with allied Republicans in favour of bump stock reform.