Not to worry, Republicans and National Rifle Association brass. Gun control advocates will wait a respectful moment before pointing out the absurdity of our gun laws so lax that even Justice Antonin Scalia said there should be restrictions. Or maybe they will wait much longer. Many have lost heart for the fight. If nothing got passed after small children at Sandy Hook, moviegoers, office workers, and partiers dancing the night away in Orlando were massacred—why would we think anything will happen now?
In fact, the talk that was permitted after the practice field shooting spree was largely about locking and loading and carrying. Three Harvard Business professors found that after a mass shooting, gun laws are more likely to be loosened than tightened. How’s that for counterintuitive behavior?
How about something NOT happening for a glimmer of hope? Yesterday a bill (the Hearing Protection Act!) that would allow silencers—those things that criminals use in the movies, and which are presently regulated more like machine guns than revolvers—was set for a hearing before the House Natural Resources Committee. It was canceled even before the leadership shut the entire House down for the day.
A wise move. Even if Republicans use their inside voices and talk nice, going on about the woes of hunters without silencers when it was the very sound of gunfire that allowed others at that field to run for cover, and for the Capitol Police to move to where the shots were coming from, would be particularly hard to take. Yes, perhaps we can be made to worry over the health of your ears and that of your hunting dogs. Just not today.
The bill to deregulate silencers has been bundled into a sportsmen’s package that might make it go down easier. It amends the National Firearms Act of 1934 to replace what the bill’s co-sponsor Rep. Jeff Duncan says is the outdated federal transfer process and its $200 fee with an instantaneous National Instant Criminal Background Check.
Duncan is so anxious to have people realize how useful silencers are (he prefers the Orwellian “suppressors”) that he hosted a demonstration earlier this month at a shooting range run by the Capitol Police in the Rayburn House Office Building. So many came, his press secretary Allen Klump said, they ran out of ammunition. As to what’s wrong with earplugs, Klump says, you have to be able to hear the wildlife before you see the wildlife in order to shoot the wildlife.
Proponents point out that a gun with a silencer is hardly silent. It reduces the sound by about 30 decibels to about the noise of a jackhammer. Maybe so, but who runs in the other direction at the sound of a jackhammer and what policeman runs towards it to suppress a shooter? To paraphrase the NRA, jackhammers don’t kill people.
The hearing hasn’t been rescheduled but the bill will get its day and likely pass this year with the support of Donald Trump and family. The president’s already signed a few gun bills and revoked a regulation that had prevented Social Security recipients with mental-health conditions from buying guns. His sons are hunters who’ve been photographed posing with everything but Cecil the Lion: a dead leopard, a crocodile, and a bloody elephant tail (they were culling the overpopulated herd) at a safari a few years ago.
Donald Jr. filmed a promotional spot for the Utah company Silenceco, named before suppressor replaced silencer as the term of art, in which he demonstrates the product and then says that for him the Second Amendment isn’t simply a “passion, it’s a lifestyle.”
Critics on the Natural Resources Committee, like Virginia Democrat Rep. Don Beyer, says there is good reason for law-enforcement opposition to the bill: If you allow would-be killers easy access to a silencer you ensure that mass shootings will claim the lives of more people, including police and first responders.” He’s also a critic of “the silence with which they’ve tried to sneak this into a larger, unrelated bill.” He calls it the “Gun Profit Protection Act.”
True enough. The bill is the darling of the NRA and shows the extremes the group will go to stay relevant in an era when there isn’t much left for gun owners to long for and pay dues to get. The bill is one more loyalty test for members who must be kept in constant fear that the NRA will target them in the next election.
Maybe Wednesday’s shooting, which hit closer to home than, say, Orlando, will slow the bill. But the last time a member of Congress was shot—former Democratic Rep. Gabby Giffords was felled by a bullet to the head in her district in Arizona‚ nothing happened but a day of speeches. Giffords called that out Thursday for the hollow response that it was:
“Congress did nothing when I was shot. Lawmakers need courage now.”
Gifford has never recovered enough from her wounds to be able to return to Congress.
And Congress shows no sign that it’s preparing to prevent the next tragedy.