The Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act, introduced by Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina (pictured), may come up for a House vote as early as next week. | Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
House GOP leaders are moving forward with plans to vote on two gun-related measures in the coming weeks, the first time Congress has taken up the controversial issue since Donald Trump became president.
A bill easing regulations on the purchases of gun silencers — also known as suppressors — could reach the House floor as early as next week.
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Another measure allowing concealed carry permit holders to take their weapons to other states is also expected to move through the House Judiciary Committee and onto the floor this fall, possibly in October, according to GOP lawmakers and aides.
Both proposals are almost certain to pass the House, despite intense opposition from gun-control groups. In the Senate, Democrats will likely block the measures. Trump would almost certainly sign such bills if they ever got to his desk.
Nearly five years after the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, left 20 children dead and spurred an impassioned debate over expanding background checks for gun sales, the GOP-controlled Congress and the Trump administration are clearly moving in the opposite direction. Republican congressional leaders and Trump administration officials — at the urging of the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups — are looking to roll back restrictions on guns imposed during the Obama era.
The push for looser gun rules comes as Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) is still recovering from a gunshot wound he suffered at a congressional baseball practice in June.
Gun-control groups — including those tied to Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor and publishing billionaire — claim that the NRA and its allies on Capitol Hill and inside the Trump administration are really looking to help the gun industry, which has seen its sales slump since President Barack Obama left office and Trump was sworn in.
The Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act, introduced by Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), may come up for a House vote as early as next week.
The Duncan legislation includes language revising federal regulations on silencers, which currently have tougher purchasing requirements than guns. Democrats contend that Duncan’s bill would make it possible to obtain a silencer without going through a background check, although Republicans insist that’s not true.
Another provision makes it more difficult for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to classify certain ammunition as “armor piercing.” Regulations on interstate transportation of weapons would be revised as well.
Duncan and other proponents of his bill say silencers are popular with recreational shooters and hunters. The South Carolina Republican points out 40 states allow hunters to use such devices.
Duncan’s bill has already been approved by the Natural Resources Committee. The Judiciary Committee, which also has jurisdiction, apparently is not going to act on the legislation but will allow it instead to go straight to the floor.
“Sportsmen are the foundation of the conservation movement in the United States, yet some radical organizations seek to limit access to this pastime by restricting the Second Amendment, as well as land and game management,” Duncan said in a statement.
While some law-enforcement officials and organizations oppose any effort to loosen the restrictions on silencers, Jim Pasco, head of the Fraternal Order of Police, says his group has no objections to the proposal. The FOP claims to be the nation’s largest police union.
“With respect to the silencer provision, we have taken a position that we do not object to that provision,” said Pasco. “The reasoning is because silencers are not — and have not been in the recent past — a law enforcement problem.”
Pasco said his organization has pushed for language allowing silencers to be traceable, which has been added to the bill.
The NRA has thrown its considerable political muscle behind the Duncan bill as well.
“Allowing law-abiding citizens to purchase suppressors without paying a $200 government tax and submitting extensive paperwork, but while undergoing an instant background check, will have a positive impact on the public health issue of hearing loss,” said Jennifer Baker, an NRA spokeswoman. “The fact that the world’s largest organization of sworn law enforcement officers expresses zero opposition to the bill debunks the gun lobby’s false claims the bill poses a public safety risk.”
But Peter Ambler, executive director of Americans for Responsible Solutions, a gun-control group founded by former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.), said the “vast majority” of gun owners don’t support any move to loosen silencer regulations, according to polls.
“The NRA poured unprecedented amounts of political money into the 2016 elections,” Ambler said. “They’re trying to ram this through when the country is distracted by the health-care debate. Most Americans oppose this bill, most major law-enforcement organizations oppose the bill.”
Ambler said Duncan’s bill could potentially allow purchases of silencers without any background check at guns shows or through private transactions.
Just as controversial is a bill by Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.) to allow concealed-carry permit holders to take their weapons with them to another state, as long as that state also allows concealed carry.
Concealed-carry permit holders would also be allowed to take their weapons onto some federal land, such as national parks.
Hudson’s bill currently has 212 co-sponsors, including several Democrats, and it is expected to easily clear the House once it reaches the floor. A Judiciary Committee mark-up could come in October or early November, with a vote by the full House shortly thereafter.
Hudson insists his bill would not override any other state, municipal or local regulations on concealed carry. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) has introduced a similar bill in the Senate.
In a statement, Hudson said his bill “would allow law-abiding citizens with a state-issued concealed carry license or permit to conceal a handgun in any other state that allows concealed carry. It also allows law-abiding residents of Constitutional carry states the ability to carry in other states that recognize their own residents’ right to concealed carry.”
But ARS’ Ambler said Hudson’s bill would essentially create a “50 state” gun license, arguing that if someone received a concealed carry permit in one state, they would be allowed to carry their weapon into every state.
A number of states also have stricter permitting for a concealed-carry holder than is required to pass a federal background check. For instance, more than half the states prevent someone with a domestic violence or stalking conviction from obtaining such permits. Ambler said Hudson’s bill would essentially pre-empt those restrictions.
Ambler added that gun purchasers could “permit shop,” meaning obtain a concealed carry permit from a state that issues permits to nonresidents, as Florida and nine other states do.
“Even if your state has stronger laws and does not allow concealed carry, you would still be able to bring your gun into that state,” Ambler insisted. “It undermines the way we permit firearms in this country.”