Las Vegas gunman had devices that make weapons automatic
Police say Stephen Paddock had up to 23 weapons in his hotel room and controversial ‘bump’ stocks
A day after 59 people were killed and more than 500 wounded at a mass shooting at a Las Vegas concert, police said they had recovered an arsenal of at least 42 weapons stashed in the gunman’s car, house and hotel room.
The sound of gunfire captured on videos recorded during the massacre indicates that Stephen Paddock used at least one automatic machine gun, a type of firearm that is highly regulated in the United States though a fairly common find at gun shows and firing ranges, including one near Las Vegas that allows customers to shoot military-grade weapons.
It was unclear how Paddock would have acquired a fully automatic weapon. But those weapons can be legally owned if made before May 1986 and registered with the federal government, or owned by licensed dealers.
But Paddock is said to have had two ‘bump’ stocks that could have converted semi-automatic firearms into fully automatic ones.
The devices have attracted scrutiny in recent years from authorities.
California Senator Dianne Feinstein has long railed against them. Several years ago, she said she was concerned about the emergence of new technologies that could retrofit firearms to make them fully automatic.
“This replacement shoulder stock turns a semi-automatic rifle into a weapon that can fire at a rate of 400 to 800 rounds per minute,” she said.
Watch: White House responds to gun control call
A semi-automatic weapon requires one trigger pull for each round fired. With a fully automatic firearm, one trigger pull can unleash continuous rounds until the magazine is empty.
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 causes the gun to buck back and forth, “bumping” the trigger.
Technically, that means the finger is pulling the trigger for each round fired, keeping the weapon a legal semi-automatic. The stocks can be bought online for as little as US$40.
Two officials familiar with the investigation said Paddock had two bump stocks. They are investigating whether those stocks were used to modify weapons used in the massacre, according to officials, who were briefed by law enforcement and spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is still unfolding.
Reports vary, but Paddock had between 16 and 23 guns in his hotel room.
So far, at least one has been identified as an AK-47 type rifle, outfitted with a stand to steady it and improve accuracy, said people close to the ongoing investigation. A source said Paddock also had four Daniel Defense DDM4 and three FN-15, both of which are tactical rifles similar to the AR-15. He also had rifles made by Sig Sauer.
The New York Times separately reported that two rifles were mounted on tripods.
Joseph Lombardo, the sheriff of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, said the weapons that have been recovered range in calibre from .223, which is associated with AR-15 style rifles, and .308, which is a calibre commonly used in hunting rifles. Lombardo was unsure whether any of the weapons were automatic. Scopes were also recovered on the scene.
“From the audio, that is not someone who has a traditional semi-automatic rifle firing it in its normal condition,” said David Chipman, a former Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent who advises the gun control group Americans for Responsible Solutions. “Either it’s a machine gun or it’s been modified. I don’t believe a human can do that with his finger.”
It was not clear when or how Paddock obtained the weapons. Chris Sullivan, owner of the Guns & Guitars shop near Paddock’s home in Mesquite, Nevada, confirmed Paddock had legally bought firearms from the shop but did not offer more detail.
One squeeze of the trigger means one round leaves the barrel, which physically limits the amount of fire to how quickly the operator can pull the trigger. AR-15 pattern rifles typically take 30-round magazines, which feeds ammunition into the weapon using a tension spring.
Some states, such as California, regulate the size of magazines, but Nevada does not. A trained gunman can easily remove one magazine from the weapon, load another from a tactical vest or pocket, and continue firing within seconds. There are higher-capacity magazines available, but they are prone to malfunctions and misfeeds.
The high number of firearms found at the hotel suggests a concern for overheating rifle barrels. The barrels can reach several hundred degrees, turning orange and even blue as rounds travel thousands of feet per second through them.
Automatic weapons such as the SAW and the larger M-240 have lever releases on the barrel, allowing one to be swapped for another using a glove similar to an oven mitt.
Associated Press, Reuters, Washington Post