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Reuters/Jim Urquhart
Quieter.
SILENCING THE SILENCERS

A vote on a US law that would make guns quieter keeps getting delayed by mass shootings

By Preeti Varathan

A bill that would liberalize restrictions on the movement of guns and the equipment that can quiet them has now been thwarted twice—both times by mass shootings.

The House was supposed to vote on the bill in June, but decided to delay a vote after a man open fired on a morning baseball practice at Republican members of Congress. Now, the life of the bill is again fraught, after a lone gunman killed 59 and wounded upwards of 500 in Las Vegas on Oct. 1 using an automatic weapon. Some were quick to connect the possible passage of the bill and the latest mass shooting.

Hillary Clinton’s tweet refers to the fact that tucked away in the Sportsmen Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act (SHARE) is a bill set to loosen current restrictions on silencers, which reduce the sound of a gunshot to the decibel level of a jackhammer hitting a sidewalk.

But it contains a common misconception about silencers—that they completely silence a gunshot. A silencer would not have made the gunshots sent by the Las Vegas shooter inaudible and the rubber that makes a silencer effective would have burned out pretty quickly on an automatic rifle. A silencer also can’t eliminate the secondary noise of a gunshot “breaking the sound barrier as it approaches its target,” argues Thomas Satterly, the head of a firearm training firm, via the Washington Post (paywall).

(Incidentally, gun manufacturers and pro-gun advocates, like the NRA and hunters, prefer the term “suppressor” over “silencers” to describe the equipment that muffles guns—though some manufacturers, like SilencerCo and Sig Silencers, do not shy away from the term.)

To the congressmen and the NRA that are backing the bill, this has little to do with lone gunmen perpetuating acts of terror, and instead, to do with protecting sportsmen who experience substantial or temporary hearing loss from their gun-related activities. But to some members of the police, the bill is intimately connected to criminal acts. A coalition of law enforcement officers have organized in opposition to the bill, on the grounds that the spread of silencers would make gunshots linked to criminal activities harder to trace. But the head of the Fraternal Order of Police, the largest police union in the US, announced that he had no objection to the bill.

Silencers have so far been heavily regulated and are treated similarly to machine guns.

So what will happen this week to the bill? Democrats in the House are calling to vote on the bill immediately, citing its urgency given the recent turn of events. Republicans, however, want to wait, believing it’s in poor taste to politicize the mass shooting in Las Vegas.