Gun rights groups are putting their might behind Republican legislation that would ease restrictions for firearm owners looking to buy silencers.
Roundly panned by gun control advocates, the Hearing Protection Act introduced this week by Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) aims to provide hunters with easier access to gun silencers.
“Suppressors significantly reduce the chance of hearing loss for anyone who enjoys the shooting sports,” Chris Cox, executive director of National Rifle Association’s lobbying arm, said in a statement.
Gun silencers, or suppressors, not only reduce the noise, but also the recoil from firing a shot, advocates say.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), Gun Owners of America (GOA), and American Suppressor Association are also backing the legislation.
GOA executive director Larry Pratt said it is “not only unconstitutional but embarrassing” that the government places so many restrictions on the purchase of gun silencers.
“Silencers are not used in crime, nor would they be if more widely available,” Pratt said.
Gun silencers are prohibited in a handful of states under current law, while hunters may use them only after going through a much more rigorous background check process in 37 other states, according to the NRA.
“The requirements to get a suppressor are the same as to get a machine gun,” explained NRA spokesman Lars Dalseide.
The gun silencer bill would speed up the process by permitting anyone who passes a basic firearms background check to purchase a suppressor.
The legislation would also waive the $200 application fee that is paid to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
Salmon, who did not respond to requests for comment, dropped the bill on Thursday and it already has the backing of 10 co-sponsors. The measure comes in the wake of a string of mass shootings that rekindled public debate over gun control.
Advocates of tighter restrictions, forced back on defense, are concerned the bill will make it easier for criminals and other dangerous people to get their hands on gun silencers they say can help conceal shootings.
They pointed to weaknesses they see in the current background check system, and say loosening the requirements for gun silencers would only accelerate the problem.
“We believe that the level of background checks currently in place for suppressors is appropriate to keep them out of the wrong hands,” Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said in a statement.
“The problem here is that our current laws don’t do enough to keep guns themselves from falling into dangerous hands,” Gross added.
Gun silencers could also be misused by well-intentioned hunters, putting families who live near hunting lands and gun ranges in even more danger, critics say.
“It’s only a matter of time until a silenced round injures or kills an innocent person who had no opportunity to hear the report of gunfire and find cover,” warned Ladd Everitt, spokesman for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.
Contrary to James Bond films, gun rights advocates say gun silencers cannot help shooters conceal their positions.
“There’s a misconception that gun silencers are completely silent,” said SilencerCo CEO Josh Waldron, whose company is the largest manufacturer of gun suppressors in the U.S. “It’s not like the movies, where you can’t hear the shot. It’s louder than a car door slamming and about the same as a jackhammer.”
“Think about how ridiculous it would be if you bought a car and had to drive it around without a muffler,” Waldron added.
Gun rights advocates also say silencers could prevent residents in rural areas from complaining about the noise.
“Norway encourages hunters to buy silencers, so as not to disturb neighbors,” Pratt said.
“Throughout Europe, it’s actually considered to be polite hunting with suppressors, so you don’t scare away the game from other hunters,” added Dalseide.