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.
The Hearing Protection Act (H.R. 367/S.59) was introduced in the United States House of Representatives by Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus (CSC) Co-Chair Jeff Duncan (SC) and CSC Member Congressman John Carter (TX) on January 9, 2017. On the same day, CSC Member Senator Mike Crapo (ID) introduced the Senate companion. The Hearing Protection Act will 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. In addition to removing suppressors from the NFA, the Hearing Protection Act will refund the $200 transfer tax to applicants who have purchased a suppressor after the original introduction date. As of June 30, 2017 the House bill has 154 bipartisan cosponsors, and the Senate version has 17 cosponsors.
Most recently, the Hearing Protection Act has been included in the discussion draft of the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement (SHARE) Act in the House of Representatives. The SHARE Act enhances hunting, angling, recreational shooting, and trapping by expanding access to public lands and the ability for sportsmen and women to pursue outdoor recreation traditions.
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