Democrats accuse GOP of attempting to help mass shooters with suppressor bill

A measure intended to make it easier for American shooting sport enthusiasts to obtain firearm suppressors came under fire from Democrats this week. Anti-firearm lawmakers said the measure would make it easier for criminals to obtain suppressors, potentially making active shooter situations more dangerous.

Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) added the measure to loosen restrictions on suppressor ownership the broader Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreation Act, legislation that would open more land throughout the nation to hunters and fishermen.

Duncan’s effort would remove suppressors from the National Firearms Act, eliminating the $200 tax stamp currently required for suppressor purchases and requiring purchasers to undergo only an instant background check during the process of buying a suppressor.

The legislation is aimed at making it easier to sportsmen to acquire the devices for hearing protection in hunting and target practice situations. As an added bonus, supporters believe more suppressors could reduce firearm-related noise complaints often hurled at sport shooters.

Democrats, however, are claiming that the measure would only help criminals.

Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.) told lawmakers gathered for a House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands hearing  Tuesday that he worries suppressors make it too difficult to identify where gunshots are coming from, potentially hampering law enforcement or putting people at increased risk during criminal shooting sprees.

“It is for this reason that silencers are so heavily regulated and why so dangerous if they fall into the wrong hands,” he said. “We should not make it easier for anyone to obtain these weapons of war.”

Democrats invited  David Chipman, an ATF retiree who now works for gun control group Americans for Responsible Solutions, to provide his “expert” opinion on removing the ATF tax stamp requirement for suppressors.

“Since silencers today are legal, there can be no possible benefit other than a negative undercutting of public safety by making them unregulated,” Chipman said, adding. “Since silencers today are legal, there can be no possible benefit other than a negative undercutting of public safety by making them unregulated.”

Here’s the problem with what Gomez and Chipman said: First, suppressors are not “silencers.” Despite what Hollywood has made Americans believe, a suppressor doesn’t totally eliminate the report of a firearm. Second, removing the tax stamp isn’t deregulation of suppressors. In order to legally purchase one of the devices, a buyer would still need to pass a background check.

Also, as with all laws, barriers to suppressor ownership already in place are only as strong as an individual’s willingness to abide by the law.

As NRA representative Stephen Halbrook told lawmakers: “It’s easy to make a suppressor. If you want to make one now you can do it and a person who would not be dissuaded from committing a murder by capital punishment potentially is not going to worry about a National Firearms Act conviction for non-registration of a suppressor.

“The fact is we’ve heard a parade of horribles of issues that would apply to criminals and we have criminal misuse of weapons now. This bill would simply make it easier for law abiding people to protect their hearing.”

Other provisions in Duncan’s Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreation Act would:

  • Increase sportsman access to federal public lands. 
  • Reform the Firearm Owners’ Protection Act (FOPA), which protects the lawful, legal transport of unloaded firearms. 
  • Strengthen protections for carrying firearms on land managed by the Army Corps of Engineers. 
  • Remove the undefined and antiquated “sporting purposes test”, which opens the door to arbitrary ammunition bans. 
  • Return wildlife management of the gray wolf back to states adversely affected by rising populations. 

The legislation made it our of committee Wednesday and is headed for a full vote in the House.

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