Suppressors are the hearing protection of the 21st century sportsman and woman. Noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus are two of the most common afflictions for recreational shooters and hunters in the United States. Suppressors serve as mufflers for firearms, which function by trapping the expanding gasses at the muzzle and reducing the noise to a less harmful decibel level. Despite common misconceptions perpetuated by Hollywood, suppressors are unable to render gunfire silent. Firearm suppressors not only protect the hearing of the millions of sportsmen and women, but also protect the hearing of those around them, and their hunting dogs. The Hearing Protection Act would streamline the process for purchasing firearms suppressors so that more sportsmen and women can take advantage of this hearing-protective technology.
Unsuppressed gunshots regularly exceed 140 decibels (dB); the threshold at which impulse noises cause permanent hearing damage. On average, suppressors reduce the noise of a gunshot by 20-35 decibels, roughly the same protection that is provided by ear plugs or ear muffs. However, several recent studies indicate that between 70-80% of hunters don’t wear hearing protection wile afield so they can maintain their situational awareness. The most effective suppressors on the market on the smallest calibers, such as a .22 LR, can only reduce the peak sound level to around 110-120 decibels, or roughly as loud as a jackhammer (110 dB) or an ambulance siren (120 dB) according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
Currently, suppressors are legal to own in 42 states, 40 of which allow their use by hunters. Despite suppressor ownership being legal in over 80% of the country, suppressors are heavily regulated under the National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA). Under the NFA, suppressor ownership requires a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) Form 4 application, a $200 transfer fee per suppressor, and undergo the same background check that is required to purchase a machine gun. In addition to this already onerous process, the prospective buyer must wait months, sometimes up to a year, for the ATF to process the required paperwork.
Contrary to the United States, many European Countries place almost no regulations on the purchase, possession, or use of suppressors. For example, in the United Kingdom and Norway, their use is nearly mandated as means to reduce hearing-related injuries for sportsmen and women, their hunting dogs, and the general public.
CSC Member Congressman Jeff Duncan (SC) introduced the Hearing Protection Act (H.R. 155) in January 2019, and CSC Member Senator Mike Crapo (ID) introduced the Senate version (S. 817) in March 2019. This legislation would remove firearm suppressors from the purview of the National Firearms Act, and replace the antiquated federal transfer process with a National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) check at the point of sale. Additionally, any state laws that levy a tax or require record keeping of sales would be preempted, and suppressors would be added to the list of taxable items through the Pittman-Robertson Act at 10%, which could result in a sizable boost to state fish and wildlife agency funding through the American System of Conservation Funding.
Last updated 4/1/2019
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- Improve hunter and target shooter involvement in regulatory and legislative processes. (10.59%)
- Enact or expand temporary hunter education deferral programs (apprentice license programs, multiyear options, programs for all first-time hunters regardless of age, and programs promoting hunting of multiple game species). (13.82%)
- Offer shooting sports and hunter education as school activities and recreation programs. (62.35%)
- Link existing programming into family-oriented organizations (such as churches and home-school groups) where participants will have the social support to continue. (13.24%)