Representative Jeff Duncan (R, SC) made news in the gun community early January when he introduced H.R.367 – The Hearing Protection Act. The bill is a reintroduction of the original “Hearing Protection Act” introduced in October of 2015.
The Legal Effect
So what would the bill do if it becomes law? In short, it would remove suppressors from the National Firearms Act and instead regulate suppressors like rifles and shotguns.
The language including suppressors in the definition of firearms within the National Firearms Act would be struck. Additionally, language would be inserted to declare any person acquiring a suppressor in compliance with the Gun Control Act, as amended, to also be in compliance with any registration requirements of the National Firearms Act. This change would be effective immediately.
Transfer taxes would be eliminated effective for transfers after October 22, 2015. There is no provision for how a refund would work, nor is there a definition for when a transfer is deemed to have occurred.
Finally, the bill purports to preempt any state law that would require a transfer tax and registration of a silencer before it can be possessed, made, or transferred.
It is always important to know who is behind a bill. Fortunately, this is now very easy to find out directly from the Congressional website. As of this writing, there are 68 co-sponsors of H.R.367. As might be expected, all of the co-sponsors are Republicans. From a geographical perspective, the co-sponsors are largely Southern and from the mid-west states. Texas alone provides a dozen sponsors. Georgia, Utah, and Indiana each provide another four. Arkansas, Arizona, Alabama, Virginia, and North Carolina each provide three. The progressive New England states and New York do not provide a single co-sponsor.
Key Public Support
So who are the big players behind this bill? In 2015 Representative Matt Salmon (R, AZ) introduced the first Hearing Protection Act. This bill reached 82 co-sponsors, but never received a vote. Unfortunately for gun owners, Representative Salmon retired as of the end of his term this year. Fortunately his replacement from Arizona is also supporting this act.
A very key supporter is Donald Trump, Jr.; the President’s son. Mr. Trump has come out on the record in favor of removing suppressors from the NFA regulations and allowing the same to be treated as a ‘regular firearm.’ It seems like a safe assumption that Mr. Trump has his father’s ear, and there is little doubt that President Trump would sign a clean H.R.367 bill if it was presented to him.
Supporters of the act argue that suppressors do not increase the effectiveness of firearms. Rather they are a safety measure that reduce noise pollution. Today the government requires noise abatement for hundreds of activities and monitors companies for compliance. Other countries with much stricter gun laws allow suppressors to be bought over the counter. The goal of protecting hearing and reducing noise runs completely against the current regulations of suppressors. For this reason, supporters argue that the NFA should give way and that suppressors should be deregulated. It is a compelling argument that invokes health, science, and looks to common examples in manufacturing plants and vehicle mufflers.
From the looks of the co-sponsors, both on the current bill and on the 2015 variant, this is shaping up to be a partisan vote. (Only two of 82 co-sponsors were Democrats in 2015.) With such a vote, it is still very likely the bill can be pushed through the house.
The prospects become dimmer in the Senate. Currently the Republicans hold 52 of the 100 seats in the Senate. Democrats, and a couple of ‘independents’ such as Bernie Sanders who ran as a Democrat in the presidential primary, hold 48 seats. While 52 is a majority, typically the Senate requires a super majority of 60 to break a filibuster or end a debate and move forward.
In 2013 when the Senate voted on national carry reciprocity the bill only attracted 57 votes. That was 3 shy to stop debate and move on to a final vote. The make up of the Senate has changed, but this should give perspective to the size of the hurdle in place.
As if the demographics of the Senate were not enough, the Democrats have promised to filibuster relaxation of firearm laws. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D, CT) has predicted that a national reciprocity bill will be dead on arrival in the Senate. National reciprocity has been consistently introduced and pushed since 2007, but passage of an act continues to prove elusive.
Chances of Success
Unfortunately, the Hearing Protection Act’s prospects are likely dimmer than the chance of a national reciprocity bill this year. With enough push, ground work, and agitation such an act may become law. But it is likely to take years before enough pressure is brought to bear. Gun owners have worked on national reciprocity for ten years or more. The Hearing Protection Act is less than two years old. It’s time is coming, but it is too early to say it is here. Watch the fight for national reciprocity to learn more; the President himself has backed such legislation.