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Silencers, Armor-Piercing Bullets: Congress Looks to Rollback Gun Laws

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The day House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., was shotin June during a congressional baseball practice, his colleagues were supposed to hold a hearing on a bill to make it easier for Americans to buy gun silencers.

That hearing was postponed because of the shooting, and now Congress may push back that legislation yet again after another shooting. This time it’s the attack in Las Vegas, the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, which critics say would have been even worse if the gunman had been equipped with a silencer.

Meanwhile, Congress may soon take up another bill that has long topped the wish-list of pro-gun groups, including the National Rifle Association (NRA), that would force states to recognize other states' permits allowing residents to carry concealed weapons.  

The Republican-controlled House has yet to schedule a vote on the Sportsmen Heritage and Recreational Enhancement (SHARE) Act, a wide-ranging bill that includes the silencer provision, but opponents had feared it could come up for a vote as soon as this week.

The House Natural Resources Committee approved the bill this month and took several steps to fast-track the legislation, including requesting a rushed analysis from the Congressional Budget Office and asking other committees to wave their jurisdiction, Democrats on the committee say.

No vote was scheduled, however, and it's now up to House GOP leaders to determine if and when the chamber will take up the bill.

The NRA and other supporters say rolling back 80-year-old restrictions on silencers are an "important safety-oriented aspect of the bill that will help protect the hearing of America’s hunters."

But critics charge silencers, which mask the sound and flash of a gunshot, will cost lives by making it harder for law enforcement and shooting victims to tell where shots are coming from in active shooting situations.

"Imagine how much worse last night’s shooting could have been if the gunman had a silencer," said Mark Kelly, the former astronaut who runs the pro-gun control group Americans for Responsible Solutions with his wife, former Rep. Gabby Giffords.

Republicans have tried to pass the SHARE Act several times before, but the NRA calls the current version "the most ambitious and consequential yet."

The bill would, among other things, loosen regulations on the sale of armor-piercing bullets, expand gun rights on public lands and shield people transporting guns across state lines from local laws. It would force courts to reimburse a plaintiff’s legal fees if they are improperly detained.

"The SHARE Act would open up our law enforcement officers to personal legal liability for doing their jobs when they inquire about interstate firearm transportation during routine stops. This is absolutely ridiculous," said Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., a former co-chairman of the Congressional Sportsman's Caucus who opposes this bill.

A separate bill on concealed carry reciprocity has yet to be taken up by the House Judiciary Committee, but it already has 212 co-sponsors, putting it easily within reach of the 218 votes necessary for a majority.

Laws that govern carrying concealed weapons vary widely by state, with some requiring applicants to prove they need a weapon and have taken a training course, while others have virtually no restrictions at all.

Proponents say the current patchwork is too confusing and want concealed carry permits to work like drivers licenses, where every state recognizes every other’s.

"This confusion often leads to law-abiding gun owners running afoul of the law when they exercise their right to self-protection while traveling or temporarily living away from home," said Chris Cox, the executive director of the NRA’s legislative arm.

But critics say forced reciprocity undermines states and cities that have chosen to enact stricter laws by creating a giant loophole that would allow residents to obtain a permit in a neighboring state with weak laws and use it in their home state with strict laws.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors, the official nonpartisan organization of cities, recently passed a resolution calling forced reciprocity "dangerous" and "completely antithetical to all of the efforts to reduce and prevent gun violence." 

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