A Republican effort to make it far easier for people to buy gun silencers appears to have once again been delayed by a tragic shooting.
South Carolina Congressman Jeff Duncan said Monday he expected a vote next week on his proposal to deregulate silencers. But now, after a shooting in Las Vegas killed 59 people and wounded 527 others, Republican leadership is saying there is no imminent plan to put the bill to a floor vote.
Democrats had said they expected a vote on the legislation as early as this week, with several prominent voices on the left highlighting the bill in the wake of the shooting.
But Speaker Paul Ryan’s office said the bill was never intended to go to a vote in the near future because leadership is still working out concerns within the Republican caucus, saying this was the case even before Sunday night’s mass shooting.
Duncan, however, said leadership had indicated to his staff that his legislation was on the schedule for next week.
Currently, silencers are treated akin to heavy weaponry such as machine guns under federal law. Buyers must undergo a background check, submit fingerprints, and their purchase is registered in a federal database. Duncan’s legislation would do away with these steps. It is tucked inside a broader hunting and fishing bill known as the Sportsmen Heritage and Recreation Enhancement Act, or the SHARE Act.
The SHARE Act also deregulates armor-piercing ammunition by removing the federal government's authority to ban such ammo if the manufacturer says it is intended for recreational purposes.
The bill was already derailed once by another shooting. In June, the day the bill was supposed to go before committee study, a gunman opened fire on Republican lawmakers practising for a baseball game. Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise was among those seriously injured in the shooting. He returned to the Capitol last week.
Former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton singled out Duncan’s legislation on Twitter Monday. “The crowd fled at the sound of gunshots,” she wrote. “Imagine the deaths if the shooter had a silencer, which the NRA wants to make easier to get.”
Mark Kelly, the husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in Tucson in 2011, echoed Clinton’s point at a press conference outside the Capitol building on Monday afternoon. “Imagine how much worse last night’s shooting could have been if the gunman had a silencer,” he said.
Duncan disputed this and said he has no second thoughts about his proposal.
“Not really because I understand the facts,” said Hunter. “I would tell Hillary Clinton if she was standing right here, a ‘silencer’ is not a silencer. It’s a suppressor, it suppresses the sound, even with the smallest caliber, to the decibel of a jackhammer.”
Duncan initially introduced this legislation as the “Hearing Protection Act” and says it is intended to help protect gun users from hearing loss. Critics see it as something else altogether.
“The silencer issue, we think, is a pretty transparent gift to the gun lobby,” said Christian Heyne, legislative director at the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.
Heyne argued that if gun owners are genuinely concerned about hearing loss they can purchase a silencer — they just have to go through the normal process that includes a background check and registering with the government.
“They haven’t been banned. They’ve been heavily regulated, but there are still over 900,000 silencers registered,” he said.
Some law enforcement groups have opposed the deregulation of silencers, arguing they increase danger to police by making the source of gunfire harder to trace.
Asked about the legislation and Clinton’s tweet on Monday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she had not spoken with the president specifically on that subject.
“I think before we start trying to talk about the preventions of what took place last night, we need to know more facts. And right now we’re simply not at that point,” Huckabee Sanders said. “The president’s been clear that he’s a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, and I don’t have anything further at this point.”
Rep. Raúl Grijalva, the ranking member of the Natural Resources Committee, said the SHARE Act is not “must-pass” legislation.
“This happened to be a vehicle [the] NRA attached their stuff to,” Grijalva told BuzzFeed News. “For the Republicans it would be politically stupid and it would be the most insensitive decision to call the SHARE Act up for a vote.”
Grijalva and Rep. John Conyers, the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, sent Ryan a letter on Monday asking the speaker of the House to announce the chamber would not take up the legislation.
“The politics around guns are just really thick here in Congress, and I’m not sure there’s any scale of tragedy that would change it short of some electoral consequences,” Rep. Jared Huffman told BuzzFeed News.