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Las Vegas mass shooting again exposes divide over gun regulations

Stephen Huba
| Monday, Oct. 2, 2017, 2:21 p.m.
Customers shop at the Guns-R-Us gun shop in Phoenix, Arizona, in this December 20, 2012 file photo. U.S. President Barack Obama unveiled a sweeping plan to reduce gun violence on Wednesday that would require criminal background checks for all gun sales and a ban on military-style assault weapons. REUTERS/Ralph D. Freso/Files  (UNITED STATES - Tags: SOCIETY BUSINESS POLITICS)
REUTERS
Customers shop at the Guns-R-Us gun shop in Phoenix, Arizona, in this December 20, 2012 file photo. U.S. President Barack Obama unveiled a sweeping plan to reduce gun violence on Wednesday that would require criminal background checks for all gun sales and a ban on military-style assault weapons. REUTERS/Ralph D. Freso/Files (UNITED STATES - Tags: SOCIETY BUSINESS POLITICS)
Bishop David Zubik speaks with the Tribune-Review on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016.
John C. Schisler | Tribune-Review
Bishop David Zubik speaks with the Tribune-Review on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016.

As casualties mount in Las Vegas, partisans on both sides of the gun debate, like most Americans, are struggling again for answers in the face of a horrific attack.

The debate on gun control that usually follows mass shootings was complicated Monday by the Las Vegas shooter's apparent use of fully-automatic firearms — weapons that, except under rare circumstances, are illegal for U.S. civilians.

“Now is not the time for policy or politics,” said U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair. “Now is the time for mourning for the 58 lives lost and doing everything possible to deliver care to the hundreds of survivors now fighting for their lives — prayers, donations and ... blood donations.”

Murphy, whose congressional district covers part of Westmoreland County, said he was awaiting further information on the shooter's character and motives.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at Monday's press briefing “there will be certainly time for that policy discussion to take place, but that's not the place that we're in at this moment.”

Sanders said President Trump was focused on the victims and stressed that it was a “time to unite the country.”

Bishop David Zubik of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh used the opportunity to renew his 2016 call for background checks on all gun purchases and limits on access to high-capacity weapons and ammunition magazines.

“While little is yet known about motive, this shows that gun control is a pro-life issue,” he said.

Zubik called on legislators to “make it far more difficult for those with dangerously impaired moral reasoning, criminals and terrorists to make their point with a gun.”

Christopher Krepich, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Sewickley, said, “We're not ready to speculate about automatic weapon use at this time as details are still emerging.”

The congressman said his “thoughts and prayers” are with the victims, their families and the first-responders.

“I'm absolutely appalled and heartbroken by the acts of hate perpetrated by an individual in Las Vegas last night,” said Rothfus, whose district includes Westmoreland County.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat from Scranton, said that while he is praying for the victims, thoughts and prayers are not “sufficient.”

“The nation's security continues to be at risk because Congress refuses to take real, meaningful action to curb gun violence,” Casey said in a statement.

“Congress must engage in a robust debate about common sense ways to keep guns, particularly military-style weapons, out of the wrong hands. Congress should take up and vote on legislation to ban military-style weapons, limit the size and capacity of magazines, which contribute to deadly mass shootings, and put in place universal background checks,” he said.

Despite the 1986 federal ban on automatic weapons, such guns still are in circulation — at last count, 391,532 of them, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence .

Fully automatic guns have been heavily regulated by the federal government since the National Firearms Act of 1934. That was followed by the Firearm Owners' Protection Act of 1986, which banned the possession and transfer of new automatic guns, said Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFirePA.

“There are ways you can buy that kind of gun legally,” she said. “He could have bought a Class 3 weapon from a (Class 3) dealer or on the black market.”

Nathan Carey, co-owner of Bullseye Firearms Gun Vault in New Alexandria, described the ban as an amnesty — allowing the ownership or sale of such guns made before 1986 but prohibiting their manufacture for standard use since then.

“All the (fully automatic) guns that are on today's market … were all made prior to 1986,” Carey said. “You could not walk into a store and ask for a (new) fully automatic weapon. It's not possible.”

Buying a grandfathered weapon is time-consuming and expensive, Carey said. “It's a hell of a wait. … It's not for the faint of heart,” Carey said.

Purchasers must obtain the proper form from a Class 3 dealer, submit to fingerprinting and have passport-style photos taken, he said. The Class 3 tax stamp costs $200, and the background check by the ATF can take up to a year, he said.

“He could have gone through all the correct channels, but you're looking at a year's wait,” Carey said. “That's no ordinary price tag. You're talking about tens of thousands of dollars.”

Mark Boerio, owner of the Army-Navy Pistol Range in Latrobe, said the only way to get an automatic weapon is through a legal purchase or illegal modifications.

“Legally, you cannot own it or possess it unless you go through the Class 3 paperwork and all the extensive background checks,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed. Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-1280, shuba@tribweb.com or via Twitter @shuba_trib.

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