Duncan's SHARE Act spurs new gun control debate

Index-Journal by Adam Benson

With the barrel of his Remington 700 pointed into an empty field, Jacob Harris donned noise-canceling headphones and pulled the trigger of his bolt-action .308 rifle, sending a resounding crack through the air.

It would have sounded louder, but Harris — manager of Hunter’s Headquarters at 1845 Calhoun Road in Greenwood — had a suppressor attached to the barrel, cutting out about 34 decibels but still making it louder than a jackhammer and validating the need for hearing protection.

For more than 80 years, suppressors have been closely regulated through the National Firearms Act — approved by Congress in 1934 at the height of gangland violence and five years after the infamous St. Valentine’s Day massacre when seven members of the North Side Irish gang were gunned down by Al Capone’s crew in a Chicago warehouse.

But tucked into a sweeping reform package called the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement — or SHARE Act, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-3rd District, suppressors would become much easier to obtain. The provision is one of 19 in the bill, but has sparked heated debate on both sides of the gun lobby.

For Duncan, pulling suppressors out of the same classification as machine guns and hand grenades is simple. If the measure is approved, suppressors can be obtained through a less restrictive, instant background check.

Currently, suppressors can only be obtained after paying a $200 federal tax, registering into a national NFA database and receiving U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms approval — which can take up to 11 months.

“By slightly reducing a firearm’s decibel noise level, these tools will help teach younger recreational shooters and hunters how to handle a firearm,” Duncan wrote in written testimony to the House Natural Resources Committee.

Currently, eight states and the District of Columbia prohibit suppressors — also known as silencers. According to the ATF, there were 73,213 National Firearms Act weapons registered in South Carolina as of February 2016. Nearly a third of those were silencers — 23,451, the ATF reported.

Nationwide, 902,805 silencers have been registered through the ATF. Although that part of the SHARE Act has been endorsed by the National Rifle Association, Duncan bristles at the notion that he is carrying out their agenda.

“First and foremost, this isn’t an NRA bill,” Duncan said in an interview. “It does have hunting aspects. It is applicable to this bill.”

On Wednesday, the gun control organization posted a statement on its website lauding the 22-13 House committee vote in favor of the “NRA backed SHARE Act.”

Opponents said they were troubled at the timing of the SHARE Act. It was first set for debate the House’s Federal Lands Subcommittee on June 14, the morning a gunman opened fire on Republicans practicing for the annual Congressional Baseball Game for Charity.

Hawaii Democrat Colleen Hanabusa, a ranking member of the subcommittee, called the SHARE Act an “incredibly early Christmas present to the gun lobby.”

“The majority seems fixated on pushing poison pill provisions that have nothing to do with the priorities of the larger sporting community and instead seek only to advance the priorities of narrow interests and promote a partisan agenda to undermine bedrock conservation laws,” she said. “I find it incredibly shameful that these provisions that would make Americans less safe are still part of this legislative package.”

Duncan was there on that June morning, and stood face to face with James Hodgkinson, the man who opened fire and wounded House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana.

When members of the Alexandria, Virginia, SWAT team arrived with their assault rifles, Duncan said, they were muffled by suppressors.

“I’m sorry if facts get in the way of rhetoric,” Duncan said. “This isn’t about gun control, other than the left is trying to tie this in.”

U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican and chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, agreed.

“Not only has science shown suppressors reduce hearing damage for sportsmen and hunters, they also reduce noise at shooting ranges located near residential areas. Unfortunately, special interests have attempted to distort this provision’s purpose as part of a broader anti-Second Amendment campaign,” he said during the committee’s deliberations.

In January, ATF Associate Director Ron Turk penned a white paper for Congress called “Options to Reduce or Modify Firearms Regulations.”