Voting to make it easier to buy noise suppressors
for firearms seemed like a win for Republicans.
But when the National Rifle Association wasn’t present at a congressional hearing on the issue — which has been at the top of its legislative agenda for years — it signaled the GOP might be growing aware of the new optics surrounding the gun debate.
Indeed, what would have been an ugly partisan fight under ordinary circumstances has been made even uglier by recent events, including the Oct. 1 massacre at an outdoor music festival in Las Vegas
that quickly became the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
The saga at the center of the gun lobby’s absence on Capitol Hill, however, occurred June 14, when the NRA’s federal affairs director was scheduled to testify at a hearing on the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement, or SHARE Act
, a legislative package containing various land conservation programs and provisions aimed at supporting hunters, fishers, anglers and other outdoorsmen.
The Hearing Protection Act — the suppressor bill — is part of this package.That same day, a gunman opened fire on the Republican baseball team practice in Alexandria, Va., injuring law enforcement personnel and congressmen, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La. The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands, along with every other panel, postponed activity as Capitol Hill confronted the tragedy.
On Sept. 12, the subcommittee’s hearing was back on. This time, however, a representative from the NRA was not
among the list of witnesses.
Still, having a highly political and deeply polarizing interest group appear at a congressional hearing might have undermined the message supporters are trying to spread about the Hearing Protection Act — specifically, that the bill is about public health.
“We could have named this something else, some acronym or something to focus on the suppressor,” said Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., the bill’s sponsor. “But really it’s about ultimately helping those who are hunters be able to protect their hearing and still enjoy their sport and be successful at it.”
Meanwhile, the bill might be on its way to becoming even more unpalatable for Democrats, particularly following the Las Vegas shooting; Democrats will be sure to argue the tragedy underscores the need to strengthen background checks before loosening existing gun regulations.
It even could become stickier for Republicans.