In the movies, it’s the hitman who carries a silencer while slinking around the shadows. In real life, sportsmen use sound suppressors for their firearms at the shooting range, Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., says.
The heavily regulated suppressors remain lawful in 41 of 50 states. But current law makes obtaining one difficult. Before purchasing the silencing devices, consumers must pay a $200 tax and undergo a strict background check.
Now Salmon wants to make sound suppressors accessible across the country. His Hearing Protection Act would eliminate the tax while simplifying the background checks. And if passed, the bill would do more than rebrand the image of suppressors for firearms.
It could dramatically change the way shooters protect their hearing, Salmon said.
“It just makes sense,” Salmon told The Daily Signal, “because suppressors make a big difference, so that guys like me can shoot and keep their hearing.”
Salmon’s father, a World War II veteran, introduced him to shooting as a sport when he was a boy. More than 50 years later, shooting has left Salmon wearing hearing aids.
Sort of a muffler for rifles and pistols, suppressors can reduce sound, flash, and recoil significantly during a gunshot. And though they don’t completely silence the noise, the devices make guns quieter and safer, gun advocates say.
“Suppressors significantly reduce the chance of hearing loss for anyone who enjoys the shooting sports,” Chris Cox, executive director of NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, said in a statement. “On behalf of the NRA and our 5 million members, I want to thank Rep. Salmon for his leadership on this important bill.”
Silencers haven’t always received that sort of praise.
In response to Prohibition-era violence, the 1934 National Firearms Act strictly regulated their use. Using a silenced firearm during a crime carries a mandatory prison sentence of at least 30 years.
And today, while a standard instant background check takes less than an hour, the permit process for obtaining a silencer can take up to 10 months.
Salmon described that process as “antiquated” and said the rules “just don’t make sense.” The Arizona Republican points out that criminals aren’t packing quieter heat.
A Western Criminology Review article from 2007 reports that of 80,000 federal criminal prosecutions over 10 years, only 30 to 40 involved someone using silencers.
Still, getting the legislation through Congress and into law will be a long shot.
In the last year of his term, President Obama has made stricter gun control an increased priority. In January, the White House revealed a new package of executive orders designed to curb what it calls gun violence.
Salmon remains bullish about his bill’s chances.
By framing the issue around a safety measure, by “couching this the way I have,” Salmon said, “I don’t know why [Obama] would be against protecting people’s hearing. I don’t know why anybody would.”
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence did not respond to The Daily Signal’s requests for comment. The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence declined to comment.