April 19, 2021
By Mark Chesnut
It’s amazing how the simple firearm sound suppressor means such different things to different political parties.
To most Republicans in Congress, suppressors are important hearing-protection devices that should be widely used to protect the ears of shooters. To most congressional Democrats, they’re evil “silencers” that can allow a mad man to shoot 100 rounds in six seconds from his “AR-15 full-auto assault rifle” without waking a sleeping baby in the next room.
Interestingly, two different pieces of legislation before Congress would treat suppressors in exactly opposite manners. A Republican measure introduced back in January would deregulate ownership and no longer require federal paperwork and taxes to own one. At the other end of the spectrum, a new bill by Democrats in both the House and Senate would completely end lawful ownership of all suppressors by American citizens.
Let’s look at the bad bill first.
Called the Help Empower Americans to Respond (HEAR) Act, the measure would outlaw the importation, sale, manufacture, transfer and possession of suppressors for anyone not in the military or law enforcement. The measure is sponsored in the House by U.S. Rep Watson Coleman, D-New Jersey, and in the Senate by long-time anti-gun U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, also from the Garden State.
“Gun silencers are dangerous devices with one purpose and one purpose only—to muffle the sound of gunfire from unsuspecting victims,” Menendez said of the legislation. “The sound of gunshots is what signals you to run, hide, take cover, call the police and help others save themselves; however, this is nearly impossible when a gun silencer is used. That is why we must pass the HEAR Act, commonsense legislation that will prevent armed assailants from using these deadly devices to make it easier to shoot and kill another person."
Apparently, Mendez’s view of suppressors is learned mostly from Hollywood movies, where the devices typically render guns nearly completely silent and allow hired assassins to ply their trade with no worry of gunshots alerting authorities. In reality, most civilian-accessible firearms emit sounds ranging from about 140 to about 175 decibels. Suppressors only marginally suppress a gun blast, bringing the level down to around 120 to 150dB—a level that is still easily identified as a gunshot.
Of course, gun-ban groups are fully in support of the punitive legislation, even though it would do nothing to fight violent crime.
“Silencers are first and foremost a tool for criminals who want to shoot in secrecy and catch their victims unaware,” Everytown President John Feinblatt said in a prepared release. “These deadly accessories have no place in American society, and I’m grateful to Senator Menendez for introducing this legislation to prohibit them for good.”
Since there are already more than 2 million suppressors privately owned in the United States, the measure’s portion relating to “possessing” a suppressor would mean all that are currently in private hands would have to be relinquished to the government. The legislation includes language authorizing a “buyback” program, although it’s unclear how the government could “buy something back” that it never owned.
Meanwhile, on April 14, Republicans in Congress introduced the Silencers Helping Us Save Hearing Act of 2021, or SHUSH Act. Introduced by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and co-sponsored by Texas Republican Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, the measure would eliminate the unnecessary regulation of suppressors.
Specifically, the bill eliminates federal regulation of silencers under the National Firearms Act (NFA) and the Gun Control Act (GCA), removing overly burdensome taxes, fees and registration requirements. The bill removes current restrictions on the right to own, transport, transfer and use a silencer.
“The current, oppressive process required to buy silencers only hurts the eardrums of millions of hunters, sportsmen and marksmen each year, and serves to provide surreptitious gun control,” said Sen. Lee. “The SHUSH Act would eliminate this onerous regulation to make a perfectly legal sport safer for millions of Americans.”
Alas, it’s likely too little, too late for the Republican-sponsored measure. Republicans recently had two years another suppressor deregulation bill, named the Hearing Protection Act (aka HPA), when they were in charge of both houses of Congress and the White House, yet still didn’t manage to get similar hearing protection legislation passed when they should have been able to do so. With Democrats currently in control, passage of the current deregulation legislation is extremely unlikely.
Freelance writer and editor Mark Chesnut is the owner/editorial director at Red Setter Communications LLC. An avid hunter, shooter and political observer, he has been covering Second Amendment issues and politics on a near-daily basis for the past 20 years.