A House committee will begin considering this week a highly controversial proposal making it easier to buy gun silencers.
It’s the first such hearing to directly raise gun rights issues since President Donald Trump won the White House last year, and there is already strong opposition from gun-control groups to the measure due to the silencer provision. A number of Senate Democrats are also opposed to any such action, and they have promised to block any legislation that includes a loosening of silencer restrictions.
Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) included the silencer provision as part of a broader bill, the “Sportsmen Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act,” or SHARE Act. There are several gun-related items in the package, including the silencer language. A "discussion draft" of SHARE Act will be reviewed by a House Natural Resources subcommittee on Wednesday.
Duncan has pushed to ease regulations on silencers for several years. A stand-alone silencer bill – called the “Hearing Protection Act” – was introduced by Duncan this January and now has 146 co-sponsors, including several Democrats.
And Duncan held a demonstration last week on gun silencers at a shooting range run by the U.S. Capitol Police in the Rayburn House Office Building. Roughly a dozen members attended the session, said a source.
Duncan and other pro-gun rights lawmakers say silencers are popular with hunter and sports shooters, and he notes that 40 states allow the use of silencers while hunting.
“The Hearing Protection Act has been one of the most important bills for sportsmen and women this Congress, which is why it’s common sense for it to be included in this year’s sportsman’s legislative package,” Duncan said. “By changing the outdated regulation of suppressors to an instant background check, just like the requirements to purchase a typical firearm, I hope the sportsmen and women in the United States will have greater access to noise reduction technology as they carry the hunting and recreational shooting tradition to future generations.”
Under the 1934 National Firearms Act, silencers are treated similarly to machine guns and explosives. The waiting time to purchase one is far longer than for handguns or other weapons, as much as nine months or more, and buyers have to submit fingerprints and a photograph. Federal law enforcement agencies keep a record of silencer purchases. There is also a $200 transfer tax on silencers.
Duncan’s proposal would eliminate those requirements, as well as refunding the $200 transfer tax to anyone who has purchased a silencer since October 2015.
Gun-control groups are bitterly opposed to the Duncan legislation, saying it would make the use of silencers more prevalent and possibly cause more deadly mass shootings. The gun-control groups argue that since potential victims won’t hear gunfire, they won’t be able to protect themselves.
“As Americans mark one year since the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando – the worst mass shooting in our nation’s history – the gun lobby is trying to sneak a dangerous provision through Congress to make it easier for dangerous people to buy silencers,” said a statement from Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Gun Sense in America. “This provision would profit gun manufacturers while making law enforcement’s job more difficult and potentially making mass shootings even more deadly.”
It’s not clear if or when the broader bill may be acted on by the Natural Resources Committee. It would still likely have to get sign-off from two other House committees — Judiciary and Ways and Means — before getting to the House floor.