The shooting of House Republican Whip Steve Scalise and several others on Wednesday morning has been the major story of the news cycle. While there are probably a few people who are celebrating the event for their own sick reasons, most Americans of all political persuasions are horrified and are hoping for the best for the victims.
The attack has caused most of the business of the US House Of Representatives to come to a temporary halt. And one of those items on the docket that has been postponed is a hearing on H.R. 367, a bill called the “Hearing Protection Act of 2017.”
Before you think that Republicans have suddenly gone all soft on things like environmental noise or hearing protection in the workplace, I should tell you that the Hearing Protection Act has nothing to do with actually protecting hearing. Well, except for the hearing of one group of people — those in the vicinity of gunfire. The Hearing Protection Act is a bill designed to relax restrictions on silencers.
It was arrogant, tone-deaf, or some combination of the two that Republicans scheduled the hearing between the anniversaries of the Pulse nightclub shooting and the Charleston, South Carolina attack on black churchgoers. And now it has been delayed due to another shooting, this time involving members of the House who are likely in favor of the measure.
A gunman with a silencer is potentially a bigger threat than one without, because the device makes it more difficult to identify the sound of gunfire. In a noisy situation, like a busy city street, it may make it impossible to notice at all. The Alexandria shooter, just like others before him, could have potentially done much more damage before anyone was able to figure out exactly what was going on if his weapon had been equipped with a silencer.
There is simply no valid legal purpose for a silencer. None. But the NRA has been pushing them under the pretext of hearing protection for years. Salon wrote about the gun lobby’s push to relax restrictions on the devices in 2012.
This Silencer Awareness Campaign is today’s gun lobby in a bottle. The coordinated effort brings together the whole family: manufacturers, dealers, the gun press, rightwing lawmakers at every level of government, and the NRA. Each are doing their part to chip away at federal gun regulation in the name of profits and ideology. Together, they plan to strip the longstanding regulatory regime around silencers, and reintroduce them to the gun-buying public as wholesome, children-friendly accessories, as harmless as car mufflers.
In case you’re wondering, the answer is yes, the gun lobby’s grand strategy rests grotesquely on fake concern for child hearing health. Among the opening shots in the campaign was a feature in the February 2011 issue of Gun World, “Silence is Golden,” penned by the veteran gun writer Jim Dickson. “One only has to look at children in the rest of the world learning to shoot with silencers, protecting their tender young ears, to see what an innocent safety device we are talking about here,” writes Dickson. “To use an overworked propaganda phrase, legalize silencers ‘for the sake of the children.’” [Emphasis mine.]
This bill is also another example of Republican hypocrisy on “local control.” The text of the legislation renders any state or local laws restricting silencers unenforceable.
Section 927 of title 18, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following: “Notwithstanding the preceding sentence, a law of a State or a political subdivision of a State that, as a condition of lawfully making, transferring, using, possessing, or transporting a firearm silencer in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce, imposes a tax on any such conduct, or a marking, recordkeeping or registration requirement with respect to the firearm silencer, shall have no force or effect.”
There’s another way to protect your hearing when you’re learning to shoot. It’s called earplugs. Industrial hearing protection is widely available and far less expensive than silencers, which typically cost several hundred dollars. But of course that type of hearing protection doesn’t make any money for silencer manufacturers, who are tied in with the NRA and gun manufacturers.
Will Republicans have second thoughts about loosening yet another sensible restriction in our already far too lax gun laws, now that some of their number were literally in the crosshairs? Conservatives do sometimes seem to have a change of heart on an issue when it directly affects them. But you can be sure the NRA will be dropping in to congressional offices with bags of money to make sure GOP legislators toe the line. And when the House gets back to business as usual, the NRA will get its way, as it always does.