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Republicans, in a shift after Las Vegas massacre, are open to considering a gun limit -- on 'bump stocks'

The Las Vegas massacre has forced a breach in congressional Republicans' solid opposition to gun restrictions, prompting many, from party leaders on down, to say they will consider banning "bump stocks" that turn assault rifles into virtual machine guns. 

The National Rifle Assn., to which most Republicans are loyal and which had been silent since the gunman's attack Sunday night, on Thursday in a statement said it could back such limits -- as a federal regulation, not law.

“The NRA believes that devices designed to allow semi-automatic rifles to function like fully-automatic rifles should be subject to additional regulations.” its statement on Thursday said.

The NRA's blessing will probably increase the number of Republicans willing to back restrictions, but if those limits come in the form of regulations from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), rather than in a law, Democrats are certain to object.

Just Wednesday, when California Sen. Dianne Feinstein introduced legislation to ban bump stocks by law, only fellow Democrats joined with her. 

By Thursday, however, top GOP leaders in the House and Senate, including Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas, signaled their interest in working on legislation that that could limit access to the devices.

"Clearly that’s something we need to look into," Ryan told MSNBC host Hugh Hewitt in an interview scheduled to air this weekend.

Senators on Thursday morning privately discussed ways they could tackle the issue as they met for routine business.

“I will tell you that the unique aspect of the bump stock and how you would literally transform a semiautomatic weapon into an automatic weapon is something that I think bears looking into," Cornyn told Texas reporters on a conference call.

He has asked Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley of Iowa to convene a hearing "and look into it."

Even Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, chairman of the House Freedom Caucus of conservative hard-liners, told reporters earlier in the week he'd be willing to consider banning bump stocks, if the Senate passes a bill and sends it to the House.

The shift is notable for Republicans who, under great pressure from the NRA and other gun rights groups, have resisted past efforts at gun control, even after some of the most devastating mass shootings in the United States.

Coming after the Las Vegas shooting, which left 58 dead and hundreds wounded in what authorities said is the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, the movement may indicate the potential limits of the gun lobby's reach into politics and policy.

Polls show Americans overwhelmingly want measures that could curb gun violence and pressure has mounted as cultural figures, including late-night comedian Jimmy Kimmel, have delivered heart-wrenching criticisms of congressional inaction.

Democrats, who have at times splintered on firearms issues as conservative-state lawmakers joined Republicans to defeat gun-safety bills, welcomed the changed outlook.

They have called on President Trump to cut across partisan lines and push Congress toward legislation to reduce gun violence that polls show most Americans would support.

"Will the president stand up?" said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York. "The president has a choice."

Many Democrats, however, will not want to limit action to bump stocks.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco said bump stock legislation was one approach, but no substitute for a background check bill that she said would have bipartisan support in the House if Ryan would allow a vote.

"It really is all up to the speaker," she said. "Is he going to bring the bill to the floor?"

At the same time, lawmakers were skeptical that initial interest in limited bipartisan legislation would translate into enough actual votes to write the restriction into law.

"We need to move Republicans from being open to the idea to being willing to actually work on it," said Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, a Democrat who has become a leader on firearms safety measures since the 2012 killings of 20 first-graders and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. 

One key Republican, Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who co-sponsored a bipartisan background check bill that was defeated a few years ago, was noncommittal Thursday. He said he was just learning about bump stocks and needed more information.

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas told reporters it was too soon, as the investigation in Las Vegas was just underway, to consider legislation.

Lawmakers, though, appeared concerned that the device offers a way to get around the existing ban on automatic weapons, which have been outlawed for years except for military use.

In the House, several military veterans, led by Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a Republican from Illinois, sent a letter to federal officials asking them to reconsider how they regulate the devices. During the Obama administration, the ATF authorized use of the stocks.

"This is definitely an area we're going to look [at]," Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield said on Fox News. 

A number of lawmakers, including Ryan, an avid hunter, said they were unfamiliar with bump stocks before the Las Vegas shooting. The alleged gunman appears to have used the device for rapid shooting.

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