Gun rights advocates hope to remove a number of federal restrictions related to the purchase and ownership of firearm silencers.
The Hearing Protection Act would exempt silencers from the National Firearms Act of 1934, a law that also regulates fully automatic weapons. Under the current law, individuals who wish to purchase a silencer must pay a $200 tax and wait several months for the ATF to process paperwork on the item before bringing the accessory home. The process is more complex than buying a firearm.
A coalition of gun rights groups, including the NRA and the National Shooting Sports Foundation, are making the Hearing Protection Act a top priority for 2016. SilencerCo, a leading silencer manufacturer, is also at the center of the effort.
"It could be a really big deal for the gun industry," said SilencerCo CEO Joshua Waldron, who also holds positions at the American Suppressor Association and NRA. "We're gaining momentum. The best part about this bill is we didn't understand how much support we would get from all of the organizations: NSSF, NRA, Congressional Sportsman Foundation. It’s really a strong push because in essence everybody understands what suppressors really are."
"They make hunting and shooting safer. That's an issue that everybody can get behind on both sides of the table."
Waldron said his company was heavily involved in crafting the bill and has advocated on its behalf through advertising and email-writing campaigns. "We helped the American Suppressor Association in drafting the language for the bill," Waldron said. "From our website alone we've generated 60,000 letters sent to lawmakers in support of HPA."
Rep. Matt Salmon (R., Ariz.), an avid shooter who uses silencers and introduced the Hearing Protection Act, said he has seen a groundswell of support from his colleagues.
"It's been very positive," Salmon said. "We already have 55 co-sponsors. We have Democrats on the bill as well. It's actually picking up a lot of steam. Suppressors really should've never been placed in the act in the first place. I think it was a mistake in the first place. There's no rationale. It's not the same as fully automatic weapon. To me it's a great training tool."
Salmon and Waldron both said silencers are not used in crime.
"There have been zero legally-owned suppressors used in crimes since the ‘30s," Waldron claimed.
Salmon said that is why there has been little organized resistance to the bill.
"They're just not used in crimes," Salmon said. "People are buying them for training purposes and because they are concerned about the noise levels. Most people that have any level of opposition to it are operating on urban legend instead of reality. They’re the kind of people that get all of their knowledge from watching The Bourne Identity."
"I think once people know exactly what they do and the benefits they have, the opposition just kinda withers up because it's not rational," Salmon said.
Two leading gun control groups, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and Everytown for Gun Safety, did not respond to a request for comment about the bill, but gun control advocates have opposed silencers in the past.
"A silencer is useful to assassins but clearly has no purpose for sportsmen. Silencers are also illegal," a 2008 report by the Brady Center said.
Many gun advocates view silencers as safety devices because they dampen the sound of gunshots so they do not damage shooters’ hearing. Some hunters like silencers because they prefer not to use hearing protection that blocks out the sound of approaching game. This results in hearing loss for many hunters, including Salmon.
Waldron said that current restrictions on silencers do not make sense. He pointed out that silencers and car mufflers are essentially the same technology, invented by the same man.
"It's ridiculous when you think about it," Waldron said. "Can you imagine if you had to pay a $200 tax for your muffler for your car and had to wait six months before you could go pick up your car from the lot? It doesn't make any logical sense."
Advocates of the bill said it is likely to pass the House and Senate easily this year, but will face a potential veto from President Obama.