The Gun Lobby Wants to Deregulate Gun Silencers – and Republicans Want to Help

Though the timing is now in question, there's little doubt the SHARE Act will get a vote in the GOP-controlled House

A silencer on a gun at a National Rifle Association outdoor sports trade show earlier this year. Credit: Dominick Reuter/AFP/Getty Images

On Sunday night in Las Vegas, a gunman opened fire on a concert across from his 32nd-floor hotel room, killing at least 58 people and injuring 515. It was the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, at least for now. (The last tragedy held that distinction for a little less than 16 months.)

From Washington, D.C., where the policy that has allowed these attacks to become a regular feature of American life is manufactured, lawmakers offered the victims their thoughts and prayers. "We are praying for you and we are here for you," President Trump said in televised remarks.

That sentiment was repeated by House Speaker Paul Ryan ("The whole country stands united in our shock, in our condolences, and in our prayers"), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ("Keeping #LasVegas in our thoughts this morning after the horrific news"), and minority leaders Nancy Pelosi ("Praying for those lost, wounded & waiting for news from loved ones") and Chuck Schumer ("We will keep the victims & their families in our hearts").

Republican Rep. Jeff Duncan – who wrote on Twitter he was "Praying for victims, families, visitors & Law Enforcement in Las Vegas!" – is the sponsor of the Sportsmen's Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act, which until Sunday evening was expected to come for a vote before the House this week. Whether Paul Ryan chooses to delay that vote in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting remains to be seen.

If Ryan does delay, the massacre would be the second shooting to set back the NRA-backed SHARE Act. A committee hearing for the bill, which would loosen restrictions on silencers and deregulate sales of armor-piercing bullets, was initially scheduled for June 14th – the same day a gunman opened fire on Republicans practicing for the annual Congressional softball game.

Instead, Duncan waited until last month to introduce the bill, which passed the House Committee on Natural Resources on a party-line vote – 22 Republicans in support, 13 Democrats opposed. The timing may now be in question, but there is little doubt the SHARE Act will come up for a vote before the GOP-controlled House. A section of the bill devoted to silencers represents one of the National Rifle Association's top two legislative priorities. (The other is a push to expand concealed carry rules.)

Gun makers call it the "Trump slump": Whereas under Obama, paranoia and fear of stricter gun laws fueled a greater appetite for guns, under this administration, sales have slowed and stock prices have dropped. In search of new revenue streams, the gun industry has increasingly focused on the growth potential of silencers – or "suppressors," as they are euphemistically called. In turn, lobbying groups like the American Suppressor Association have drafted language arguing that gun owners need silencers to protect their hearing, rather than to conceal their crimes – language that would eventually be copied and pasted into the SHARE Act.

The Hearing Protection Act calls the removal of background checks and taxes on silencer purchases, as well as the destruction of the national registry that currently tracks the purchase of silencers.

As the ASA boasted in a December blog post, the group's general counsel, Michael Williams, was the "lead author" of the SHARE Act's controversial section on silencers. Williams spent six months going "back and forth with Congressional Legislative Counsel" while finalizing the bill's language. (Williams departed the silencer lobby in December to take a job with Trump's inaugural team; he now works as a lawyer in the administration's Office of Management and Budget.)

The president of the ASA told the Huffington Post earlier this year that if the SHARE Act passes, the silencer market could grow ten times bigger. He's not the only who thinks so, either: In July, the American Outdoor Brands Corporation – formerly known as Smith & Wesson – acquired the silencer maker Gemini Technologies. In a statement, AOBC's president called the purchase "opportunistic," explaining that the company was eager to get into the silencer game "prior to potential favorable changes in legislation and at a time when the market is particularly soft market."

Gun safety groups oppose the SHARE Act, and on Monday they were speaking out about potential ramifications. John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, said that silencers could have made the carnage in Las Vegas even worse. "During last night's horrific shooting, people fled when they heard gunshots," Feinblatt said in statement. "Instead of pushing to vote on legislation that would gut silencer safety laws and put more lives at risk, our leaders should finally come together around common-sense gun laws that will keep people safe."

One Pulse for America, founded after the last deadliest-shooting-in-modern-American-history, asked supporters to call their representatives and ask them to table the SHARE Act.

The gun industry, for its part, probably wasn't worried: the American Outdoor Brands Corporation saw its shares increase 3 percent on Monday. Shares for Sturm Ruger, the nation's largest firearm manufacturer, were up 4 percent, and ammunition maker Olin hit an all-time high, according to CNN Money.