POLITICS

Hill Republicans try to ease purchase of gun 'silencers,' as NRA-backed Trump arrives

FILE: Feb. 23, 2016: SilencerCo CEO Joshua Waldron cradles a handgun with a built-in suppressor. West Valley City, Utah. (Reuters)

FILE: Feb. 23, 2016: SilencerCo CEO Joshua Waldron cradles a handgun with a built-in suppressor. West Valley City, Utah. (Reuters)

Congressional Republicans are trying to change federal guns regulations to make buying a silencer, or suppressor, easier. But critics don’t agree with the argument that the proposed legislation is a safety measure to prevent hearing injuries.  

The Hearing Protection Act, introduced earlier this week in the GOP-controlled House and Senate, if passed, would still require a background check to buy a silencer, which muffles or suppresses more than silences the sound of a shot.

However, buyers would no longer have to pay a $200 fee or wait for months after filing extensive paperwork with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

“I’ve been shooting since I was a young child -- beginning with plinking with a .22 rifle and dove hunting with my Dad. My hearing has been damaged because of gun noise,” South Carolina Rep. Jeff Duncan said Monday after introducing the bill in the House with Texas Rep. John Carter, a fellow Republican.

“Had I had access to a suppressor, it may have protected me, as well as millions of other Americans, from this sort of hearing loss. This is a health issue,” Duncan continued.

The National Rifle Association’s lobbying arm supports the measures, saying suppressors are “harmless and very rarely used in crime” and that the joint bill would end the “cumbersome and lengthy application process.”

A similar measure failed in 2015. But supporters are optimistic this time with Republican Donald Trump set Friday to officially become president.

They point to the NRA having endorsed Trump and Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., a hunter, recently appearing in a promotional video for Utah-based SilencerCo.

“I believe in American manufacturing. I love your product,” Trump says in the video, in which he also argues that European countries freely allow the accessory. “It’s a safety issue.”

The GOP lawmakers say the bill aims to “cut through the red tape” of owning a suppressor and, if passed, would remove the accessory from the scope of the National Firearms Act. They also say it would replace the “outdated” federal application process with the “instantaneous” National Instant Criminal Background Check.

The bill calls for a refund of the $200 transfer “tax” for applicants who purchased a suppressor after Oct. 22, 2015, the original date of introduction.

Critics point to a February 2013 situation in which fired Los Angles police officer Christopher Dorner killed four people in a series of attacks over 10 days that targeted law enforcement officials. They argue the fatal attacks might have been stopped earlier had Dorner not been using silencers.

“There’s no evidence of a public health issue associated with hearing loss from gunfire,” Kristin Brown, of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, told The Los Angeles Times. “There is evidence of a public health crisis from gun violence, and we think that’s where legislative efforts should be directed.”

The bill is being introduced in the Senate by Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo, and its co-sponsors include fellow GOP Sens. Rand Paul, Kentucky, and Jerry Moran, Kansas.