As details emerge about the carnage at a Las Vegas country music concert, the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, the House is set to move forward with a vote on a gun lobby-backed bill that would deregulate the sale of gun silencers, which make it harder to detect the origin of gunshots.
Gunman Stephen Paddock killed at least 50 people and injured hundreds more using what experts say sounded like an automatic weapon from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel. Witnesses described chaos on the ground, with concertgoers and law enforcement running in all directions, unclear about where the shots were coming from.
The scene echoes other recent mass shootings like the one in an Orlando night club in June 2016 which left 49 people dead and was previously the most deadly shooting in recent U.S. history. In the early chaos of these attacks, it’s often difficult for law enforcement and the general public to discern the original of gunshots and whether there could be more than one gunman. The use of silencers would make that even more difficult.
The GOP-sponsored bill, the Sportsmen Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act (SHARE Act), would remove gun silencers from the list of items regulated by the 1934 National Firearms Act. Under current law, silencers , which reduce the noise emitted from firearms, are regulated as strictly as machine guns and short-barreled rifles.
The National Rifle Association’s top legislative priority this year has been to roll back the regulations on what they call noise suppressors. The gun lobby claims the restrictions are costly and unnecessary since silencers are rarely used to commit crimes.
Opponents, meanwhile, say the fact that silencers are rarely used to commit crimes means the regulation is working. They claim that deregulation would lead to more gun violence and to more death and injury when a mass shooting occurs.
David Chipman, senior policy advisor for Americans for Responsible Solutions and a former special agent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, testified in September that the bill is an immense threat to public safety.
“Congress is promoting a bill that would make a [shooting] 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,” he told Congress.
According to some reports, the House could vote on the bill as soon as this week, although it’s not yet on the official schedule. Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has said the GOP has the votes to pass it, although it could meet a filibuster in the Senate.
This is not the first time the GOP has been accused of poor timing related to its silencer bill. In June, the party scheduled a hearing on the legislation for the same morning that a gunman opened fire at a Congressional baseball practice, injuring Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA). The hearing was rescheduled for September.
In his testimony, Chipman noted the timing of the originally scheduled hearing.
“Lives were spared that day because people recognized the unique sound of gunfire and were able to take cover,” he said.
Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC), the lawmaker who introduced the Hearing Protection Act and then included that legislation in the SHARE Act, held a “members only” gun silencer demonstration for his colleagues in Congress at the U.S. Capitol Police Range in early June.
If passed, the legislation would be the first pro-gun bill Congress approved since President Trump took office, although the White House and Republican lawmakers have been pushing for weakened gun restrictions since they took control of Washington in January.
The Trump administration has already taken steps to make it easier for both fugitives and the mentally ill to buy guns. Republicans in Congress have also introduced other legislation to allow for concealed carry reciprocity, meaning people without permits or training would be permitted to carry firearms across state lines. The House is also set to move forward on that bill before the end of the year.
“A lot of this legislation is stuff written by lawmakers beholden to the gun lobby and they’ve just been waiting for a Republican president to sign it,” Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, told ThinkProgress earlier this year. “If loose gun laws and more guns made us safer, we’d be the safest country in the world. Instead, we have the highest rate of gun violence of any developed nation.”