Could Las Vegas shooter have legally owned machine gun?

Officials still not revealing specifics on types of firearms used in massacre

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A gunman who killed 59 people and injured more than 500 others when he opened fire Sunday night on an outdoor country music concert had an arsenal of nearly 50 weapons in his hotel room and two nearby homes.

Based on the hail of bullets heard ringing through the Las Vegas Strip, speculation is that Stephen Paddock had at least one fully automatic weapon, possibly a machine gun or a semi-automatic firearm that he had converted with a device, like a bump stock.

So far, officials have not confirmed anything about the types of guns used in the attack, which Paddock perpetrated from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel. They said Paddock's guns are being fully examined by federal agents.

Paddock had 23 guns in the hotel room with him. If any of the guns used in the attack was a machine gun, it would be the first time in modern history that such a weapon was used in a mass shooting.

But even if Paddock did own a machine gun, local gun advocacy attorney Eric Friday said it's possible possessing it was perfectly legal until the moment Paddock fired on innocent concert-goers.

“The ATF knows who owns nearly every fully automatic machine gun in this country,” Friday explained.

According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, machine guns manufactured before a 1986 ban took effect are legal for private citizens to own, and it's legal to transfer ownership to another gun owner, as long as it's properly registered with the government.

The I-TEAM combed through the ATF database and found that as of 2017, Connecticut -- where the Newtown elementary school massacre unfolded -- is home to the most machine guns in the country --.more than 52,000 of them. (Click here for state-by-state numbers)

Texas comes in second with 36,500 machine guns. Florida is No. 3 with 36,100 registered machine guns.

Those numbers include guns owned by state and local law enforcement, as well as private citizens.

Eric Friday estimates the legal purchase of a machine gun costs about $20,000, but pointed out that some could be even more expensive. The cost is a deterrent for many criminals to turn to them, Friday said. And the cost of a round for a machine gun can be as much as $5 a bullet.
As general counsel for Florida Carry, Friday fights for Americans' rights to own machine guns and other legal firearms.

“If we are already regulating them as tightly as we can, and someone gets one and does something bad with it, are we going to punish every other person in this country?” Friday asked. “We don't tell everybody, sorry we're taking away your cars because a drunk driver runs into a crowd of people. So we shouldn't write gun laws based on what one crazy person does.”

Friday said that as a gun rights advocate, it's not about whether people need guns but whether they have the right to own them.

“We have rights in this country for a reason,” Friday said. “Society may have the attitude, 'Well, if (not having guns) saves one child's life, it's worth it.' But my attitude is, 'If (having a gun) saves my child's life, it's worth it.'”

Jacksonville mother Lucy McBath lost her 17-year-old son, Jordan Davis, after he was gunned down at a Southside gas station during a fight over loud music.

Her son's murder turned her into a gun control advocate. On Twitter, she calls herself a "spokesmom" for two such groups: Moms Demand Action and Everytown.

Following the Las Vegas tragedy, McBath tweeted: "America! We can prevent these tragedies and work to make our country safer #gunsafety."

The New York Times published an editorial Tuesday spotlighting mass shootings since the previous deadly record last year in Orlando titled: 477 days since Pulse massacre, 521 mass shootings, zero action from Congress.

The I-TEAM also found gun production in America spiked again over the last year. In 2016, 11 million new firearms were manufactured in the United States, up from 9 million the year before. Only 3 million guns were made in 2007.

Democrats call for 'assault' weapon ban in Florida

Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, and Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, will outline proposed legislation Wednesday that would ban “assault-style” weapons in Florida.

The Orlando lawmakers will hold a news conference at the Orange County Courthouse and discuss incidents such as the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando last year and the Las Vegas massacre, according to a news release.

Smith on Tuesday filed his version of the legislation (HB 219), while Stewart filed a similar measure (SB 196) in August.

The Republican-dominated Legislature, however, has repeatedly rejected gun-control measures in the past.

A proposal sponsored by Stewart and Smith during the 2017 legislative session to ban so-called assault rifles and "large capacity" ammunition magazines was not heard in House and Senate committees.

The new legislation is filed for the 2018 session, which starts in January.


The News Service of Florida and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

State-by-state numbers

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