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Las Vegas Gunman Had Arsenal in Hotel Room

The Wall Street Journal. logo The Wall Street Journal. 10/3/2017 Joe Palazzolo, Zusha Elinson

The gunman who authorities said killed at least 59 people at a Las Vegas music festival appears to have used at least one rifle outfitted with a device that allowed the weapon to fire at a rapid rate, and had nearly two dozen firearms in his hotel room, law-enforcement officials said.

Investigators found 23 firearms in a room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. The weapons included AR-15-style and AK-47-style rifles as well as a large cache of ammunition, two law-enforcement officials said.

At least one of the guns was outfitted with a “bump stock,” a device that allows the weapon to increase the rate of fire on a semiautomatic rifle, one of the officials said.

The​gunman alternated between two windows in the hotel room, ​firing​upon thousands of concertgoers below, ​one official said. The staccato of automatic gunfire could be heard in videos of the shooting that were posted online. ​

The suspect, 64-year-old Stephen Paddock, killed himself before police entered the hotel room, authorities said.

Investigators searching Paddock’s home in Mesquite, Nev., retrieved 19 firearms and thousands of rounds of ammunition, Las Vegas police officials said Monday.

Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo said they also found Tannerite, an​explosive that detonates when shot by bullets and is used in target practice.

In Paddock’s car, authorities found more ammunition and ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer that can be used to make explosives, Mr. Lombardo said.

Automatic rifles, which meet the legal definition of a machine gun, can fire continuously with one pull of a trigger and are heavily restricted under federal law.

The AK-47, invented for the Soviet Army following World War II, is sometimes used as a generic label for a family of guns that are found on battlefields around the world, often identifiable by a wood stock and grips.

The gun can toggle between automatic and semiautomatic, though manufacturers sell civilian versions that fire semiautomatic only.

The AR-15, originally developed by Armalite and Colt, is a semiautomatic rifle that resembles the black firearms carried by U.S. soldiers.

Gun experts speculated on Twitter and in online groups that the gunman may have used an accessory to ramp up the rate of fire on a semiautomatic rifle, such as a trigger crank or bump stock, which uses a combination of forward movement and recoil to engage the trigger rapidly. Such accessories are far cheaper and easier to obtain than an automatic weapon.

The 1934 National Firearms Act requires automatic weapons to be registered with the federal government, unlike semiautomatic firearms.

A 1986 law prohibits civilian possession of machine guns that weren’t registered before May of that year. The law exempts automatic firearms possessed by or sold to government agencies.

As of April, 630,019 machine guns were registered with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, including more than 11,700 in Nevada, up from 456,930 machine guns in 2010. That number includes weapons to be used by government officials and unserviceable guns that are purchased as ornaments.

Conversion kits that allow gun owners to turn a semiautomatic rifle into an automatic one are treated the same as machine guns themselves, said David Kopel, a Colorado attorney and gun-rights advocate. Such a conversion by a civilian would have had to have been done before 1986 in order to be legal.

Until 2016, would-be buyers of machine guns had to receive permission from their local sheriff or chief of police and submit their photos and fingerprints to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Many buyers, unable to get law-enforcement sign off, resorted to buying machine guns, silencers and other heavily regulated weapons through trusts, legal entities that were subject to fewer restrictions.

© John Locher/Associated Press

ATF eliminated the need for law-enforcement permission while imposing background checks on those who buy weapons through trusts. Now, buyers need only alert their local authorities to their federal applications for machine guns or other weapon regulated under the National Firearms Act.

Write to Joe Palazzolo at and Zusha Elinson at


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