ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Now we turn to a Democratic senator and co-sponsor of a bill to ban bump stocks. Those are the attachments to a rifle that make it possible to fire off many rounds with one pull of the trigger. Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland is also the chair of the Senate Democrats' campaign committee. Senator Van Hollen, welcome to the program once again.
CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Good afternoon.
SIEGEL: If someone attaches a bump stock to a semiautomatic rifle, it'll fire at rates between 400 and 800 rounds per minute. This bill would outlaw them. Would it also outlaw the ones that are already out there?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, my understanding is that this is designed to prohibit any one after the date of enactment from using a bump stock to accelerate the rate of fire. So yes, it would be illegal for someone to apply this mechanism to a semiautomatic weapon after the bill is passed.
SIEGEL: Elsewhere on today's program, we hear from a gun expert whom I interviewed who's actually very down on the bump stock. He says it makes it harder to aim a rifle. It's no good for self-defense, recreation or hunting. But he's concerned that politicians wouldn't stop at banning an attachment to an AR-15. You really want to ban the rifle, the AR-15. Is he right, and is there any value to a very limited step like this current bill?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, look; the country has been united in grieving for the victims of the terrible massacre in Las Vegas. I wish we were united in doing something to address the daily toll of gun violence in our neighborhoods as well as these mass shootings. But my view is we should take every step that we can. I would like to pass universal criminal background checks to address the daily violence on our streets. We know that that will save lives. But I also think we need to pass this legislation to ban bump stocks and trigger cranks and other mechanisms that are used to effectively turn semiautomatic weapons into fully automatic weapons, which are already illegal.
SIEGEL: And if you could get that, while it might not be sufficient in your view, really that at least would be an effective response to what's happened in Las Vegas, you would say?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, it would save lives. I'm for supporting anything that we can pass that would save lives. I would like to pass other gun safety measures, other common-sense measures. But if we can get people onboard with this, that would at least address these massacres and reduce the death toll, yes, I'm for it.
SIEGEL: Have you...
VAN HOLLEN: We should do more - no doubt about it.
SIEGEL: Have you gotten any Republicans onboard, and have you gotten red state Democrats from the Senate onboard with this bill, or is this just too tough an issue for them?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, we'll see in the days ahead. I think as time goes on, people will see that at least the bill we're talking about - the bump stock bill - is very narrowly tailored. There is really no reason to have these bump stocks other than to dramatically accelerate the rate of fire and be able to kill lots more people quickly. So it's going to be I think difficult for our Republican colleagues to justify their opposition. But look. Everybody is going to have to look at the situation and make a decision. But I do believe that this provision - this narrow provision has the possibility of gaining bipartisan support. Again...
VAN HOLLEN: ...It doesn't address the daily toll of gun violence in our neighborhoods. We need these other measures like universal criminal background checks. But we should move forward where we can get agreement to save lives.
SIEGEL: The columnist David Frum writes that mass killings with guns since Sandy Hook actually have led to changes in gun laws. But the changes at the state level have been to decrease controls on guns. How do you understand that - that even as there have been many mass shootings, the political consequences have been to lessen rather than increase gun control?
VAN HOLLEN: Well, he's right. It depends on the state of course. In my state of Maryland, the legislature actually passed a few years ago a good, sound, comprehensive set of gun safety measures that strengthen gun laws. But in many other states, they are headed in the wrong direction, and it's largely due to the power of the NRA in those states just like the NRA has a whole lot of power here in the United States Congress. They have succeeded in using their lobbying power...
VAN HOLLEN: ...To block a lot of common-sense gun safety measures. So we'll have to see what happens here in Congress.
SIEGEL: Senator Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland, thanks for speaking with us today.
VAN HOLLEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.