It is likely to be an unfortunately long and drawn-out battle, but at least the national fight to protect the hearing health of America’s millions of gun owners has begun. U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., has introduced the Hearing Protection Act (HPA), legislation that will make the acquisition of firearm suppressors much more efficient and affordable for law-abiding gun owners who would like to use them.
From a function standpoint, suppressors are basically mufflers for firearms—nothing more and nothing less. A suppressor does not make the discharge of a firearm silent, like silly Hollywood portrayals suggest, any more than pipes on a Harley Davidson completely hush the Hog. The noise is simply tamed to an extent. From a function standpoint, suppressors are basically mufflers for firearms—nothing more and nothing less.
Those of us who shoot know that ear plugs and muffs do not eliminate all perceived noise from a gun’s discharge. Gunfire is still pretty darn loud, even when wearing the best hearing protection money can buy. A suppressor on a gun eliminates about as much noise as muffs or plugs do. The unique thing is that suppressors work their magic at the source—the muzzle. This should paint a fairly clear picture of true capabilities for those who have never experienced the joy of shooting suppressed guns.
Unfortunately for every freedom-loving American, suppressors were rolled up into the bureaucratic mess that is the National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA). This means that when I want to acquire a suppressor, I have to pay a $200 tax per device, and submit complicated ATF paperwork, fingerprints and passport photos. I also have to get approval from my Chief Law Enforcement Officer (CLEO), assuming he or she will give it. Finally, I have to wait months for the federal bureaucracy to process my paperwork before I can legally possess my suppressor.
The CLEO sign-off is particularly offensive to me. America was always intended to be a nation of laws, not of men. No government official should ever be able to wield power in a subjective bureaucratic process that denies one American rights or privileges that are enjoyed by another. This is something more befitting repressive regimes like Cuba, Iran and China. In Dallas County, Texas, where I live, the CLEO is a hoplophobe and will not approve NFA paperwork. My friends, who live in another county just a few miles south, have their paperwork approved every time.
Without establishing a trust or corporation (which exempts a person from some of the NFA procedural requirments including CLEO approval), gun owners in my county and many other (primarily urban) jurisdictions throughout the country are simply out of luck. They cannot benefit from all of the great things suppressors have to offer.
NRA and the American Suppressor Association (ASA) have addressed this problem in many states by passing laws that generally require the CLEO to approve NFA paperwork. With the passage of each of these “Shall-Sign” laws, a certain appropriate salute is given to every CLEO arrogant and biased enough to reject NFA paperwork without cause.Suppressors are being made lighter, more durable and easier to maintain. Maybe more important than anything, they are getting cooler.
The NRA and its millions of members have provided the political muscle to help the ASA accomplish a great deal with regard to suppressor use in America. Civilian possession is now legal in 41 states, and their use in hunting is legal in 37. Shall-Sign laws have been passed in 14 states. The HPA sponsored by Rep. Salmon is the next great joint effort.
In the simplest terms, the HPA will pull suppressors out from under the umbrella of onerous regulation pursuant to the NFA. When enacted, acquiring a suppressor will be treated in the same manner as acquiring a firearm from a licensed gun dealer—a NICS background check will be conducted. There won’t be any $200 tax, fingerprints or passport photos. Most importantly from my perspective, there will be no kneeling before an omnipotent CLEO begging for permission. ‘Merica!
This should satisfy all of the anti-gunners in Congress who yearn to make America more like Europe. In many European countries, suppressor sales are handled like those of a hammer or screwdriver. They are considered basic tools that are not regulated in any manner whatsoever. Their use in hunting is often considered a matter of common courtesy to others in the area. HPA is less strident than the European model, but it’s realistic and still great.
In addition to helping to protect the country’s shooters and hunters, the HPA will allow an entire industry to flourish like never before. The elimination of all of the unncecessary bureaucratic red tape will encourage countless gun owners who would have never attempted to brave the NFA process to actually purchase suppressors. All of this will create and sustain an enormous number of jobs here in America, which most people on the left and right would actually agree is a good thing. This is simply a matter of getting the government out of the way. The market will take care of the rest.
The timing for all of this could not be better. We are in the golden age of suppressor development and technology. Innovation is constant. Suppressors are being made lighter, more durable and easier to maintain. Maybe more important than anything, they are getting cooler. Watch someone peruse a gun collection that includes a few suppressors—virtually every time the great guns are ignored and all attention is drawn straight to the suppressors.
Use Your Power!
It should be noted that the HPA also has a component that will refund the $200 tax to any suppressor owner who purchased one after Oct. 22, 2015. This is something to help ensure that good gun owners don’t delay experiencing all of the benefits of suppressor ownership by holding off on a purchase in the hopes of quick passage of HPA. As I mentioned earlier, this is likely to be a long fight that involves a great deal of time and policymaker education. Don’t delay. Suppressors are too cool and beneficial. And life is too short!
We all need to be a part of the effort to educate policymakers. Be sure to contact your representatives and senators to tell them why they should support the HPA. It is difficult to imagine opposition to the legislation, but it will come. Unfortunately, much of it will be motivated by nothing more than a desire to punish gun owners. There really is nothing else for the usual suspects to stand on here.
In a world with far too much noise at all times (just stop and listen wherever you are at this very moment), virtually everything is required to run quietly. It is true of airplanes, cars, motorcycles, construction equipment, appliances, etc. Firearms are the only things in our society that are mandated by federal law to be as disruptive and harmful to hearing as possible. In order to escape the irrational and unjust mandate, one must pay a punitive tax and attempt to navigate a long and difficult government process. This is fundamentally wrong, and it’s time something is done about it. This something is the Hearing Protection Act, and America will be a better place when it is enacted.