A gadget costing as little as $100 — readily available and entirely legal — turned a rumpled former accountant into a hyperefficient killing machine on the Las Vegas Strip.
Stephen Paddock used at least 12 of the so-called bump or slider stocks to turn semiautomatic rifles into supremely more deadly weapons by sharply boosting their rate of fire, officials said.
From his perch on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, Paddock unleashed nine bullets per second on the crowd below, slaughtering at least 58 people. Bullets flew close to the rate of a machine gun, and much faster than the already lethal power of a semiautomatic rifle.
Although federal laws bar automatic weapons, gun dealers are free to peddle the stocks despite their potential use for mass murder.
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives approved the devices in 2010 even though one manufacturer, Texas-based Slide Fire Inc. claimed the purpose of the stocks was to assist “people with limited mobility of the hands,” records show.
“Obviously, they know better. When it comes down to it, everything is about money,” said Billy King, 38, who was shot in the back Sunday night in Sin City while shielding his wife. “The more they can get it sold, of course they’re going to sell it.”
“It’s like smoke shops. They carry certain glassware and say it’s used for tobacco, but everyone knows most of the sales are for marijuana,” said the married father of four from Las Vegas who is still hospitalized.
He was one of 527 people injured — either shot, or hurt in the ensuing chaos — as 22,000 people scurried for safety at a country music concert.
Ari Freilich, the staff attorney for the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, scoffed at Slide Fire’s claim, saying the device has no redeeming qualities.
“It has no defensive purpose or hunting utility,” he said. “Its purpose is purely offensive: to shoot as many bullets and kill as many people as possible in a short amount of time.”
Paddock pumped the bullets from his suite about 1,200 feet from the concert floor.
The shooter, who owned dozens of guns, apparently “preplanned extensively” for the attack, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo said.
Paddock owned at least 47 guns purchased in four states. He had at least 23 weapons in his hotel room, mostly rifles, officials said.
To put it in context, Omar Mateen, the gunman who killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando last year, fired 24 shots in nine seconds from a semiautomatic rifle.
Paddock, using the bump stock, fired 90 shots in a 10-second period, close to the rate of a machine gun, which is 98 shots in seven seconds.
Bump stocks replace the factory stock on different types of rifles, including the AR-15- and AK-47-style guns used by Paddock, and function using the recoil of the rifles to accelerate the rate of fire.
The shooter puts his or her finger just in front of the trigger while constantly pushing the rifle forward with the other hand.
The gun recoils after the first round goes off, literally bumping back into the stock, and then moves forward again from the pressure.
Online listings show the attachments typically sell for $100 to $300.
Slide Fire calls its products a “game changer,” and boasts, “The command and control behind the Slide Fire stock will create an exhilarating experience that keeps you smiling for days.”
It’s not clear which company Paddock bought his stocks from.
In a 2010 letter written by a Justice Department lawyer, the Slide Fire bump stock, designed by Jeremiah Cottle, was approved for use. The lawyer, John Spencer, assigned to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said in the letter that the company claimed its purpose was “to assist persons whose hands have limited mobility.”
Six years later, however, Cottle gave a whole different description for the purpose of the device. “Some people like drag racing, some people like skiing and some people, like me, love full auto,” he told the Ammoland website.
“Slide Fire brings shooters the same full auto experience but without having to take out a second mortgage on their home.”
Cottle has insisted over the years his device — despite the rapid fire it generates — does not create machine guns.
“It is not automatic. Nothing is automatic,” he told GunsAmerica in 2011.
“You actively fire every round, and if you stop pushing forward or you take your finger off the trigger, the gun stops firing. It just helps you fire the gun in semiautomatic very fast.”
The ATF, meanwhile, has repeatedly taken the position that the device requires more than one trigger pull, so it is not an automatic weapon.
Automatic weapons and silencers have been illegal for civilian use since 1986, and the mechanics of a semiautomatic can’t be altered to increase the speed of fire.
“The (bureau) is interpreting the federal definition of a machine gun. Of course, they could change their interpretation,” Freilich said. “In practice, it’s essentially the same thing.”
Bump stocks could have become illegal under the proposed 2013 ban on assault weapons in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.
Mass shooting at Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas
The bill, proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), failed to make it out of the Senate, losing by a vote of 60 to 40.
“I’m looking at ways to proceed with legislation to ban bump fire stocks and close this ridiculous loophole for good,” Feinstein said on Twitter on Tuesday. “Doing nothing in the wake of this tragedy is not an option.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) echoed those sentiments from the floor of the Senate.
“We cannot banish evil or madness from the Earth. But we must do what is within our power to make our country a safer place to live,” he said.
Vegas shooting victim King, though, wasn’t sure he supported a ban on the stocks.
“We can’t put fences around everything,” he said.