By Aya Driouche
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – A survivor of the Oct. 1 mass shooting in Las Vegas helped persuade a Virginia Senate committee Monday to approve a bill outlawing bump stocks, a device that allows a rifle to mimic an automatic weapon.
After hearing from Henrico County resident Cortney Carroll, who was at the country music concert where 58 people were killed and 546 injured, the Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted 11-4 for SB 1. It would prohibit Virginians from making, selling or possessing "any device used to increase the rate of fire of any semi-automatic firearm beyond the capability of an unaided person to operate the trigger mechanism of that firearm."
Carroll, 40, recalled being at the Route 91 Harvest music festival when Stephen Paddock opened fire on 22,000 concertgoers.
"The only way I could describe it is, it sounded like a machine gun," she said. That's because Paddock, who later killed himself, had fitted his rifles with bump stocks to fire at a rate of nearly 10 rounds per second.
"When I found out that just a regular person had changed a semi-automatic rifle into essentially a machine gun, it really hit me hard," Carroll, who lives in Short Pump, said in an interview. "I had no idea that those things (bump stocks) even existed. So that's when I knew that I needed to take a stand. I believe that I was saved for a reason, and I need to make a difference."
Carroll, a mother of two, comes from a family of Republicans who enjoy hunting and support Second Amendment rights.
"I grew up in a household with hunters. My boyfriend's a hunter. I have no problem with guns. I'm a Republican; I support gun rights," she said. "Prior to this, I didn't really know anything about bump stocks."
Carroll said she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety from the massacre. The first thing she does when she enters a room is to identify the exits - and ponder where she would hide if someone started shooting. Carroll said large crowds make her uncomfortable.
On the evening of Oct. 1, Carroll and her aunt were singing along to Jason Aldean when the first shots rang out. Everyone assured her they were fireworks. But seconds later, Carroll recalls hearing the rat-tat-tat sound of "machine gun fire you hear in movies."
Carroll and her aunt crouched down and huddled closely, covered by other people who were attending the concert. Carroll recalls thinking, "This couldn't happen to me - not now."
After five rounds of shooting, as Paddock was reloading his weapons, Carroll said she and her aunt got up and ran. As they tried to find a path to safety, they hit a dead end. At that moment, Carroll's aunt was grazed by a bullet above her eye. Seeing her aunt's face dripping with blood is something that Carroll said still haunts her today.
Carroll's boyfriend attended the Senate committee meeting to offer his support. Carroll had a small orange ribbon pinned to her shirt, symbolizing mass shooting awareness.
SB 1, which was introduced by Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, now goes to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration.
Also at Monday's meeting, the Senate Courts of Justice Committee defeated:
- SB 2, which would have made it illegal to carry a loaded firearm while under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs.
- SB 5, which would have required a background check for any firearm transfer. Currently, no checks are necessary for sales at gun shows and between private individuals.
- SB 112, which would have added disability, gender, gender identity and sexual orientation to the state’s definition of a hate crime. Now, only offenses “motivated by racial, religious, or ethnic animosity” are considered hate crimes.
All six of the Democrats on the committee voted in favor of those bills, and all nine Republican members voted against it.
Afterward, Democratic senators criticized the Republican committee members for voting against background checks.
"We know that if we enact universal background checks, fewer law enforcement officers will be shot and killed, fewer intimate partners will be shot and killed, and there will be fewer gun-related suicides," said Sen. Jennifer Wexton, D-Loudoun. "Gun violence is an epidemic, and the time has come to act if we are going to keep our communities safe."