WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.-12) today reintroduced the Help Empower Americans to Respond (HEAR) Act, federal gun safety legislation to ban the importation, sale, manufacturing, transfer and possession of gun silencers or suppressors.
“Gun silencers are dangerous devices with one purpose and one purpose only – to muffle the sound of gunfire from unsuspecting victims,” said Sen. Menendez. “The sound of gunshots is what signals you to run, hide, take cover, call the police and help others save themselves; however, this is nearly impossible when a gun silencer is used. That is why we must pass the HEAR Act, commonsense legislation that will prevent armed assailants from using these deadly devices to make it easier to shoot and kill another person.”
“Silencers are not tools of self-defense, they are tools of murder,” said Congresswoman Watson Coleman. “They have no legal application which is why law enforcement officials around the country have been calling for their elimination. The HEAR Act will save lives and is part of the common sense approach to firearms legislation that polls show has widespread support among voters on both sides of the aisle.”
Sen. Menendez first introduced this piece of legislation in 2019 following the deadly Virginia Beach mass shooting, in which a gunman attached a suppressor to a .45-caliber handgun before opening fire in a local government office building where he killed 12 people and injured four more.
Aside from prohibiting silencers, the HEAR Act would also:
· Provide individuals with a 90-day grace period after the date of enactment for individuals to comply with the ban;
· Provide limited exceptions for certain current and former law enforcement personnel, for certain Atomic Energy personnel and purpose, and for certain authorized testing or experimentation.
The HEAR Act is cosponsored by Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), and Alex Padilla (D-Calif.).
“Gun silencers and suppressors are dangerous and don’t belong in our communities. They hide the sound of gunfire from potential victims and law enforcement. Removing them will save lives,” said Sen. Feinstein.
“The only people who could reasonably oppose a ban on gun silencers are criminals trying to avoid detection by law enforcement or mass murderers trying to hurt as many people as possible,” said Sen. Blumenthal. “Whether a firearm is being used in a mugging or a massacre, the sound of a gunshot is a warning that helps bystanders get to safety and allows law enforcement to track and apprehend the shooter.”
“Silencers present a grave risk of danger to our communities and law enforcement because it makes it difficult to ascertain the location of an active shooter,” said Sen. Booker. “The HEAR Act is a commonsense solution that will help address our nation’s gun violence epidemic by prohibiting all use, sale, importation, manufacture or possession of gun silencers. The time to act is now–we can no longer allow for this disturbing pattern to continue in our country.”
“Silencers don’t just silence gun noise, they silence warnings of nearby danger,” said Sen. Markey. “With roughly two million registered gun silencers across the country that inhibit law enforcement’s ability to identify shooters and the public’s ability to seek safety, the HEAR Act will ban these silencers and help put an end to needless gun violence deaths in the United States. It is long past time to pass commonsense gun safety legislation, and I am proud to support the HEAR Act as an important step in stopping this public health epidemic.”
“Gun silencers and suppressors have no place in our communities—they threaten public safety and first responders,” said Sen. Padilla. “Silencers only increase the potential for more victims and greater tragedy during a mass shooting. Banning gun silencers is a commonsense proposal that could be the difference between life and death when faced with an active shooter.”
This bill is also supported by Everytown for Gun Safety and the Violence Policy Center.
“Silencers are first and foremost a tool for criminals who want to shoot in secrecy and catch their victims unaware," said John Feinblatt, President of Everytown for Gun Safety. "These deadly accessories have no place in American society, and I’m grateful to Senator Menendez for introducing this legislation to prohibit them for good.”
“The Violence Policy Center (VPC) applauds Senator Menendez’s efforts to ban silencers which are military-bred accessories that make it easier for criminals to take innocent lives. Manufacturers brag that silencers can make guns ‘whisper quiet’ while increasing shooters’ accuracy and ability to fire rounds more quickly. These characteristics only make silencers more attractive to mass shooters, domestic terrorists, and common criminals. Senator Menendez’s legislation is important to protect public safety,” states Violence Policy Center Legislative Director Kristen Rand.
A silencer, which is also known as a suppressor, is attached to the barrel of a firearm in order to “limit the sound, muzzle flash and kickback” of a gun. Silencers pose a great danger to law enforcement officers and the public since they sometimes make it more difficult to detect the location of an active shooter. They diminish the effectiveness of gunshot detection technology deployed in many municipalities that rely on audio sensors to record the sound, time and location of loud noises. When silencers are used, the devices are sometimes unable to detect the sound of gunshots.
· In Virginia Beach, Virginia, on May 31, 2019, a gunman armed with a .45-caliber handgun fitted with a suppressor killed 12 people in a government building. One individual who survived the shooting reported hearing what sounded like a nail gun.
· In Jacksonville, Florida, in December 2017, police arrested a man for planning to “shoot up” an Islamic Center. He was charged with possessing a silencer not registered to him that he purchased from an undercover detective. The man texted the undercover detective saying, “The suppressor is not really that 'quiet' but it can be used on the 4th of July or New Year (sic) time, it can easily blend with the sound of fireworks”.
· In Southern California, in February 2013, a former Los Angeles police officer killed four people, and wounded three others over the course of nine days. As police investigated, they wondered why nearby residents weren't reporting the shots. It turned out that, in an effort to conceal his murders, the shooter was using a silencer, which distorts the sound of gunfire and masks the muzzle flash of a gun.
· In Toledo, Ohio, in January 2011, a man fatally shot his coworker as he sat eating his breakfast in his office. No one at the office heard the gunshot and the victim’s co-workers originally assumed he had died of a heart attack. Police later surmised that the killer had used a silencer.
Gun silencers have become one of the fastest-growing segments of the gun industry, which pushed accessories as gun sales level off. While several states, including New Jersey, outlaw gun silencers, they are permitted under current federal law, but must be registered. In 2010, there were 285,087 registered silencers, as of April 2020 there were over 2 million. A nationwide ban on silencers would ensure the devices are not trafficked into states where bans are in place.
Yesterday, Sen. Menendez also reintroduced the Keep Americans Safe Act to ban high-capacity magazines that can hold over ten rounds. Last month, he took additional steps to help combat the scourge of gun violence in America by leading his colleagues on urging President Biden to close the ghost gun loophole and reintroduced the Gun Records Restoration and Preservation Act, which would repeal the Tiahrt Amendments – provisions that severely hamstring law enforcement’s ability to solve and prosecute gun crimes, stop illegal gun trafficking and hold negligent gun dealers and owners accountable, while also providing special protections to the gun industry that compromise public safety. The Senator has also supported previous efforts to ban assault weapons and pass universal background checks, and voted for the original Assault Weapons Ban in 1994 as a member of the House of Representatives.
Full text of the bill can be downloaded HERE.