GEORGIA—The Las Vegas gunman Stephen Paddock possessed a little-known device called a “bump stock” that was not widely sold — until now.
Originally created with the idea of making it easier for people with disabilities to shoot a gun, the attachments allow a semi-automatic rifle to mimic a fully automatic weapon by unleashing an entire large magazine in seconds.
Now the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history has drawn attention to the devices, which critics say flout federal restrictions on automatic guns.
The stocks have been around for less than a decade. The government gave its seal of approval to selling them in 2010 after concluding that they did not violate federal law.
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 then causes the gun to buck back and forth, repeatedly “bumping” the trigger against the finger. Technically, that means the finger is pulling the trigger for each round fired, keeping the weapon a legal semi-automatic.
The rapid fire does not necessarily make the weapon any more lethal — much of that would be dependent on the type of ammunition used. But it does allow the person firing the weapon to get off more shots more quickly.
It’s unclear how many have been sold. The industry leader, Slide Force, did not return messages seeking comment. But the Abilene, Texas, company’s Facebook page is filled with videos extolling its features, including one in which a woman gushed, “It’s so easy because once you slid it forward and leaned into it, it just fires.” In another, a man fires off 58 rounds to celebrate his birthday in 12 seconds.
Sales for firearms or specific accessories seem to jump after every high-profile shooting.
“That will likely happen again with bump stocks, said Dr. Garen Wintemute, director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis. “People will go, ‘Oh geez, I should get one of those.’ The other is that people will be concerned about efforts to ban them.”
Manufacturers tout the stocks, some of which sell for less than $200, as offering a simple and affordable alternative to automatic weapons without the hassle of a rigorous background check and other restrictions.
Ed Turner, a former police officer who owns a gun shop in Stockbridge, Georgia, said he’s already seeing a run on bump stocks since the shooting. He said he would be surprised if he had sold two of them in the past decade, but now he’s unable to find any available, even from wholesalers.
Jay Wallace, owner of Adventure Outdoors in Smyrna, Georgia, said soon after most of his customers buy one, “the newness wears off and they put it away and it stays in a closet.”