A woman looks at a makeshift memorial on the Las Vegas Strip for victims of the Route 91 music festival mass shooting next to the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, on October 3, 2017. Photo by REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

A guide to the fight over gun silencers

Nation

A woman looks at a makeshift memorial on the Las Vegas Strip for victims of the Route 91 music festival mass shooting next to the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, on October 3, 2017. Photo by REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

After the Newtown massacre in 2012, Democrats and gun control advocates focused on pushing for more background checks for some gun buyers.

After last year's mass shooting in Orlando, they rallied around a bill to ban everyone on the no-fly terror watch list from buying a gun.

But at the time of those shootings, Democrats controlled at least one of the three legislative levers in Washington (the House, Senate and White House). Now, they control none.

That helps explain why, after Sunday's shooting in Las Vegas, gun control advocates first turned to opposition of a Republican plan, rather than promotion of new policy. Their focus during these past two days has been a Republican proposal to make it easier for Americans to purchase gun silencers. But the bill and the issue are more complex than the Twitter debate and initial coverage suggests.

The gun silencer issue is part of a larger bill called the SHARE Act, an acronym for the Sportsmen's Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act. (Read it here.) It's a significant piece of legislation, nearly as long as the health care proposals Republicans have rolled out this year. And it contains many longtime proposals from gun rights advocates and hunters, including those that:

  • Limit a president's power to ban certain types of ammunition or weapons
  • End federal restrictions, but allow state restrictions, on lead content in ammunition or tackle used for fishing
  • Repeal a rule limiting the hunting and trapping of some bears, bear cubs, caribou and some coyotes on Alaska's preserves
  • Make it easier for Americans to bring back polar bear trophies from Canada

But the debate since Las Vegas has centered on the piece of the bill known as the "Hearing Protection Act." This would remove the current nine-month approval process required to buy a silencer, also known as a suppressor — a feature that reduces the sound a gun makes when it fires.Supporters of the bill, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., insist it is misunderstood. Here is what we've gathered from checking with sources on both sides of the debate.

  • What the bill does: The bill would make it easier to buy a silencer, dropping the current nine-month, $200 approval process. The proposal would instead require those who want to purchase a silencer to go through only one review: the same federal background check that's currently required to purchase a gun. That can take between a few minutes and up to three days.
  • What supporters say: The term "silencer" is used in the bill, but gun rights advocates are stressing that silencers do not actually silence a gun. Instead it reduces the sound by some 30 decibels. That would reduce the sound from most rifles down to roughly 130 or 140 decibels, which is still as loud as a military jet taking off but lower than the level that causes imminent hearing loss, a key argument from the bill's sponsors. (See the Washington Post's fact check for more.)
  • What critics say: On the other side of the debate, gun control advocates argue that while silencers may help sportsmen, they also can help criminals. Critics have also argued that while guns that use silencers may still be audible — and technically fire at a high decibel level — the sounds they make are brief and harder to hear.

So, where does the bill stand now? It made it through committee and is waiting for a full House vote. process was delayed following the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., and others at a Congressional baseball practice in June. House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters Tuesday that "it is not scheduled" for a vote yet. But even if it passes the House, its fate seems dim in the Senate, where it would need 60 votes — which would require at least eight votes from Democrats — to pass.

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