Lawmakers on Tuesday kick-started a renewed debate over guns with a hearing on a sportsmen’s bill that includes language loosening restrictions on gun sound suppressors, or silencers — one of the top legislative priorities for gun-rights groups this year.
The legislation would remove silencers from National Firearms Act regulations and instead require buyers to go through a federal background check the same way they would for buying a gun. It also removes a $200 transfer tax that applies to certain purchases.
Proponents of the legislation say it’s about safety, and is intended to protect the hearing of shooters and hunters.
“Suppressors are important devices to reduce hearing damage for shooters — my father himself suffered from it — as well as to reduce noise at shooting ranges located near residential areas,” said Rep. Tom McClintock, California Republican and chairman of the House natural resources subcommittee that met Tuesday to weigh the legislation.
Mr. McClintock said that’s been a major complaint in his district with a recently opened outdoor shooting range.
Stephen Halbrook, a lawyer from Northern Virginia who has been involved in Second Amendment litigation, said the phrase “silencer” is a misnomer and pointed out that the law does nothing to change the already stiff federal penalties for illegal possession of the suppressors.
“The word silencer was a misnomer from the very beginning,” Mr. Halbrook said. “These are sound moderators.”
Opponents, though, said the legislation isn’t about promoting public safety and is really a giveaway to a gun lobby that’s been struggling to drive up sales since President Trump’s election.
Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, Hawaii Democrat, said the silencer item and several gun-related measures constituted an “early Christmas present to the gun lobby.”
The hearing had originally been scheduled for June, but was postponed after Rep. Steve Scalise and several others were wounded in a shooting at a congressional baseball practice on the same day.
Rep. Steve Pearce, a New Mexico Republican who was present for the shooting, said it was not the sound of the gunfire but the return fire of the security detail that ultimately saved lives that day.
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