Hillary Clinton took heat on social media Monday for suggesting the Las Vegas massacre would have been even worse if the NRA had succeeded in making silencers easier to obtain.
But while critics noted a suppressor probably would not have done much to mute the sound of the gunman’s high-powered rifles, Clinton’s tweets nevertheless have put the spotlight on a gun bill battle that had been flying under the radar until now.
House Republicans had been weighing the possibility of bringing legislation to the floor that would make it easier to obtain silencers for firearms, as well as legalize sales of armor-piercing bullets (if used for “sporting purposes”) and permit increased hunting in public lands.
The bill may be shelved for now. House Speaker Paul Ryan said Tuesday it's not scheduled for a vote and he doesn't know when that might change.
But Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., the primary backer of the legislation, argues that suppressors are meant to protect the hearing of sportsmen and told Fox News earlier he hopes the House can consider the bill “this week or next.”
As for concerns about criminals using suppressors to commit violence undetected, he said they would avoid silencers because they diminish accuracy at long-range. This factor, he suggested, would have made it an unlikely device for the Las Vegas shooter.
The Sportsmen Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act (SHARE ACT), however, was sidelined in June after the shooting at a congressional baseball practice where House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., and others were injured.
While the House brass talked about bringing the bill to the floor in recent weeks, it still has not officially appeared on the House schedule – and the Las Vegas attack could end up sidelining any drive to bring the bill to a vote.
The Sunday shooting on the Las Vegas strip left 59 dead and more than 500 injured, making it the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.
Clinton on Monday morning referenced the debate over suppressors, tweeting:
“The crowd fled at the sound of gunshots. Imagine the deaths if the shooter had a silencer, which the NRA wants to make easier to get. … Our grief isn't enough. We can and must put politics aside, stand up to the NRA, and work together to try to stop this from happening again.”
Conservative critics quickly hit back, saying silencers probably would only moderately dampen the sound of gunfire in this kind of attack.
“Suppressors only reduce by a few decibels, still same decibel level as a jackhammer,” tweeted Dana Loesch, a talk radio host and NRA spokeswoman.
The federal government generally has banned silencers for more than 80 years, dating back to the National Firearms Act of 1934 which was a response to mob killings. That’s partly because silencers can make it hard for law enforcement to detect where gunfire is coming from.
However, proponents argue that silencers don’t do much to quiet many weapons. Backers of the provision argue this is necessary to protect the hearing of sportsmen.
The provision in Duncan’s bill dealing with suppressors would ease rules for obtaining the devices. The measure, backed by the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action, is cast by supporters as a way to reduce hearing damage for sportsmen and noise at shooting ranges.
Democrats call the claims misleading.
“Instead of giving us a vote on bipartisan, commonsense legislation to expand the background check on gun purchases, the Republican Leadership is pushing a bill that will deregulate silencers,” Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., said in a statement Monday. “… This isn’t about helping hunters or sportsmen, this is about making more money for gun manufacturers.”
Last Thursday, just minutes after Scalise returned to the House, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., also blasted the bill and the effort to frame it as a boost for sportsmen.
“Sportsmen don't need what that bill puts forth, unless they're not a very good hunter or sportsman,” Pelosi said.
Fox News’ Chad Pergram contributed to this report.