In the wake of the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, Congress Should be Doing More, Not Less, to Keep Us Safe from Gun Violence.
By Jasmeet Sidhu, Researcher, Amnesty International USA
On October 2, 2017, we awoke, yet again, to the horrifying images and reports of rising casualties following a mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Country Music Festival in Las Vegas, Nevada. More than 22,000 people gathered Sunday night, at the closing event, to watch their favorite bands and enjoy live music together. Without any clear motive identified by law enforcement, one man armed with 23 firearms in his hotel room alone, took 59 lives and injured more than 527, in just a matter of minutes.
As frantic family members searched for their loved ones and local law enforcement, legislators and medical professionals rushed into action, we collectively mourned as a nation- as we watched yet another “normal” activity turn into a deadly massacre. Whether going to a nightclub, attending services at a place of worship, attending school or watching a movie — Americans have become increasingly familiar with the idea that firearms in the wrong hands can interfere with their human rights- the right to live, the right to have security of person, and the right to freedom of movement.
So what is Congress doing to address gun violence? Earlier this summer, the House Natural Resources Federal Lands Subcommittee was set to debate the “Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act, or SHARE Act,” which includes 18 provisions related to guns and hunting, but most importantly also includes measures that would pave the way for individuals to have access to firearm silencers without any oversight or procedures in place to ensure that these devices do not end up in the hands of individuals likely to misuse them. The provision, known as Title XV or the Hearing Protection Act, would provide that firearm silencers be treated in the same manner as long guns and advocate for removal of procedural safeguards for firearm silencers under the purview of the National Firearms Act. The initial SHARE Act hearing was postponed due to a shooting at a Congressional baseball game on June 14, 2017. On September 12, however, the SHARE Act hearing moved forward, with the expectation that the bill will come to a floor vote in the next few weeks.
What many may not know, is that due to their inherently dangerous nature, for over 80 years, the National Firearms Act (NFA) of 1934 has provided oversight for the legal acquisition of firearm silencers, preventing them from being obtained by individuals likely to misuse them. These safeguards have allowed law enforcement, first responders, and the public to hear gun shots and potentially identify active shooters, thereby protecting themselves and others when armed individuals threaten their safety. This was certainly true in Las Vegas, when concert-goers were able to run and hide, upon hearing the sound of gunfire and bullets raining down from above them. Can you imagine what would have happened if the Las Vegas shooter had used a silencer on his guns? The death toll would have been far greater, not only because concert-goers would not have heard the gunfire, but law enforcement might have taken longer to identify the shooter’s exact location. And yet, in the wake of this horrific tragedy, Congress wants to pass a gun silencer bill.
Currently, silencers are treated similarly to machine guns and explosives under the NFA. Accordingly, the waiting time to purchase one is far longer than other weapons, as long as nine months or more. The NFA requires that all silencers be registered with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and that any potential purchasers undergo a background check, submitting fingerprints and a photograph, to adequately protect against the weapons ending up in the hands of individuals likely to misuse them. Under the SHARE Act, however, Congress would roll back these critical safeguards and require that the Attorney General destroy any registration of a silencer recorded in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record. If silencers were deregulated, they could be sold through private sales, without a background check or other safety precautions to guard against their misuse.
Silencers reduce the sound of gunfire and mask muzzle flash, making it inherently more difficult for law enforcement and potential victims to identify the location and identity of an active shooter. In the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, should our priority as a nation be passing legislation which would roll back essential protections and safeguards for the possession of silencers, increasing potential danger to law enforcement and the public, and eradicating any evidence of records that may be useful to law enforcement and other officials investigating crimes and incidents where firearm silencers were used? Shouldn’t we, at a minimum, be protecting existing safeguards on firearms which prevent and reduce gun violence, and instead working to advance new solutions to address gun violence and the death toll of 33,000 individuals lost to firearms in the U.S. each year?
In the days following the shootings in Aurora, Oak Creek, Newtown, Washington, D.C, Charleston, Roseburg, San Bernadino, Orlando, and most recently Las Vegas, Americans have struggled to make sense of senseless acts of violence. We have felt helpless when faced with unthinkable tragedy. But we are not helpless. We can make a difference moving forward. Through all of the tragedies that brought us to our knees in the past year, the bonds of human compassion and the desire to be strong for communities united us in a common goal: understanding how to move forward in the face of tragedy and to honor those we lost through action. Whether as volunteer crisis counselors, blood donors, off-duty law enforcement, friends, families, faith leaders, or community members, Americans continue to rally around each other and provide support and comfort with each new unexpected act of gun violence. In this way, we come together as survivors and as advocates for a better tomorrow, and we call on Congress and President Trump to take action. We urge legislators to table the SHARE Act once and for all, and instead focus on action and legislation that addresses the crisis of gun violence and the patchwork of ineffective laws that fail to adequately safeguard individuals in the U.S.