Sometimes events conspire to expose the senselessness of much of what passes for leadership in Washington these days. In the wake of Sunday night’s mass shooting in Las Vegas, the U.S. House of Representatives was poised to vote on a new gun bill that would have, among other things, legalized sound suppressors, commonly known as silencers, as well as armor-piercing ammunition. That legislation has since been postponed, but it will almost certainly be back before Congress soon enough.
Both of these items have been on the wish list for the National Rifle Association for years, but they have been consistently opposed by law enforcement, who have expressed concern that suppressors would make their jobs more difficult in the event of a mass shooting, since perpetrators could be harder to locate. As for armor-piercing bullets, what more really needs to be said. With mass shootings now so routine that the public barely has time to reflect on them before the next bloodletting, most people could probably be excused for not concluding that America’s real problem is a lack of firepower.
The legislation in question, known as the Sportsmen Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act, sounds reasonable enough on its face and there are some perfectly sensible provisions within it.
And it’s worth noting that there are arguments for the use of noise suppressors, and differences of opinion about how well they might work in a mass shooting environment. We recognize that silencers don’t work as shown on television. But they do make it more difficult to locate a shooter because the suppressor muffles the sound to some degree and masks the rifle flash.
Shooting sports fans have argued for their use for some time as a means to protect their hearing. Of course, there are other means to do that— means that don’t provide new opportunity for mass shooters, or other criminals, to evade detection and capture. Noise suppressors are, at most, a convenience. At worst, they could result in more needless American deaths. When you balance the two it’s tough to conclude that legalizing noise suppressors is sound public policy.
It’s much the same with armor-piercing bullets. While there is disagreement about whether the use of silencers could have increased the death toll in Las Vegas, it’s not difficult to imagine that Stephen Paddock could have taken a number of police with him had he used armor-piercing ammunition. Armor saves the lives of cops all the time. Armor-piercing bullets render such protection ineffective, which is the main reason they’re commonly referred to as “cop killer” bullets. It’s no surprise that many law enforcement groups are strongly opposed to loosening restrictions on the use of such ammunition.
The just-pulled legislation made a mockery of the concerns of law enforcement. It addressed their concerns by requiring the manufacturers of armor-piercing bullets to label their ammunition as “for sporting purposes only.” As if the ammunition is intended for flak-jacketed whitetails rather than cops.
All Americans recognize that the latest mass shooting will not spark a renewed push for even modest limitations on Americans’ access to their guns. That battle has already been fought and the NRA won. The current line from conservatives is that mass murder is “the price of our freedom,” so let’s not kid ourselves about the prospects of even minimal restrictions on guns.
The question, however, is whether hunters and sportsmen and sportswomen really want to be connected with legislation that is, by its nature, extreme, and that is, in effect, potentially very dangerous. Do we really want to open whole new avenues of opportunity for the next mass shooting? Or the one after that? Or the one after that?
This legislation was originally slated to come to a vote in June, but the shooting of members of Congress put a hold on the bill. The timing just didn’t seem right, apparently. We suspect that the timing will never be right for silencers or cop-killer bullets.
This is legislation that is simply unwise and unneeded and should be removed permanently from the congressional agenda. Let’s not give mass shooters in America more tools than they already have.