The Sound of Gunfire Can Be Life-Saving
“Pop, pop, pop, pop -- it’s a sound I’ll never forget.”
That’s how Representative Mike Bishop of Michigan described the scene in June when a gunman attacked members of Congress practicing for a baseball game in suburban Washington. That sound allowed some people at the scene to take cover -- yet Bishop and his fellow Republicans now seem prepared to pass legislation that would make it harder for anyone similarly threatened to heed the warning.
A bill now working its way through the House would remove silencers from the list of devices regulated by federal authorities under the 1934 National Firearms Act. In addition, the bill would weaken regulations for transporting firearms across state lines and purchasing armor-piercing bullets.
Currently, anyone wishing to purchase a silencer must submit fingerprints and a photograph for a background check and pay a $200 fee. A record is kept of the purchase, and local law enforcement officials are notified of the sale. Loss or theft must be reported.
The ostensible reason for making silencers readily available to all is to combat hearing loss among hunters and other sportsmen. (An earlier version of the bill, which Bishop cosponsored, was called the Hearing Protection Act.) Proponents also point out that silencers are “seldom used” in crimes.
These are weak arguments. Yes, allowing hunters to use silencers might help them reduce hearing loss. But so would a variety of noise reduction products already on the market. As for silencers seldom being used -- that’s because federal law prevents criminals from buying them.
The potential consequences could be dangerous. Testifying last week before a House subcommittee, a former special agent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and current policy adviser to a group that seeks to deter gun violence eloquently made the point.
“This legislation was originally scheduled to be heard before this committee on the very morning that a shooter targeted members of Congress at a baseball practice,” said David Chipman. “Lives were spared that day because people recognized the unique sound of gunfire and were able to take cover. Now, Congress is promoting a bill that would make a situation like the one experienced in Alexandria potentially even more dangerous by putting silencers in the hands of criminals, and making it difficult for people -- including law enforcement officers -- to identify the sound of gunshots and locate an active shooter.”
Five people were shot that day in June, and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise was seriously wounded. Like other real-world events, the occasion should give House Republicans cause to reconsider their devotion to the gun lobby’s agenda.
--Editors: Francis Wilkinson, Michael Newman.
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