Before the Las Vegas shooting brought the gun debate once again to the fore, gun-control advocates were preparing for a House vote as soon as this week on legislation loosening a series of firearms regulations for the benefit of sportsmen and hunters. From their perspective, the most concerning of those measures is a bill dubbed the Hearing Protection Act that would eliminate a $200 federal tax on silencers, streamline the process of obtaining approval to buy them, and preempt any state or local law restricting their sale or possession. “We’re working that bill pretty hard. I think today things changed quite a bit,” Kris Brown, co-president of the Brady Campaign, told me on Monday. House Republicans already delayed action on the measure once this year, after Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana was shot at a congressional baseball practice in June.
The silencer bill was added to a broader package of legislation known as the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act, or SHARE, which loosens restrictions on hunting on public lands and prohibits the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms from designating certain ammunition as “armor-piercing.” The SHARE Act advanced out of the House Natural Resources Committee in September and appeared to be headed for a full vote on the House floor. But it was not on the schedule for this week, which was released on Friday, and a spokesman for Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy would not say when it might come up.
Supporters argue there’s a public-health benefit to silencers, because they suppress the loud noise of a gunshot that could be damaging to the ears of frequent hunters and recreational gun users. But advocates for gun control say there are plenty of headphones and noise reducers already on the market, and they say the legislation is a transparent giveaway to the silencer industry. “This is simply propping up sales for the gun industry, which have flagged since the election of Donald Trump,” Brown said. Gun sales spiked during the Obama presidency amid fears—never realized or realistic—that Congress or the administration would enact restrictions on or even seize firearms. Now, gun-control advocates say, the industry is turning to other methods to juice sales. “There’s not a bogeyman in the White House right now for the NRA,” Everytown spokesman Andrew Zucker said.
The NRA, or National Rifle Association, had no comment on Monday, maintaining the low public profile that has become the norm for the organization in the immediate aftermath of mass shootings. Politico reported that the NRA had delayed by a week the start of TV ads it was set to run in support of the Republican nominee for governor of Virginia, Ed Gillespie. The lead sponsor of the Hearing Protection Act, GOP Representative Jeff Duncan of South Carolina, was not available for an interview, his spokesman said. Though the bill may make it through the House, it seems unlikely to win the support of the at least eight Democrats it would need to overcome a filibuster in the Senate.