WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), a founding member of the Senate Gun Violence Prevention Caucus, and Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.-12) Thursday reintroduced the Help Empower Americans to Respond (HEAR) Act – bicameral federal gun safety legislation to ban the importation, sale, manufacturing, transfer and possession of gun silencers or suppressors.
“Gun silencers are devices designed for a very specific purpose – to suppress the sound of gunfire from unsuspecting victims and reduce the chances they can run, hide, take cover, and call the police during an active shooter situation,” Menendez said. “It is well past time that we pass the HEAR Act, legislation that would prevent armed assailants from using deadly devices that only make incidents of gun violence all the more dangerous.”
“Silencers are not tools of self-defense, they are tools of murder. They have no legal application, which is why law enforcement officials around the country have called for their elimination,” Coleman said. “The HEAR Act will save lives and is part of the common sense approach to firearms legislation that has widespread support among voters on both sides of the aisle.”
Sen. Menendez first introduced the HEAR Act 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.
In addition to prohibiting gun silencers, the HEAR Act would:
- Authorize a buyback program for silencers using Byrne JAG grants;
- 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.
In the Senate, the HEAR Act is cosponsored by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). In the House of Representatives, it is cosponsored by Reps. Jasmine Crockett (D-Texas-30), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.-12), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.), Wiley Nickel (D-N.C.-13), Glenn Ivey (D-Md.-04), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.-12), and Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.-13).
Violence Policy Center, Newtown Action Alliance, March For Our Lives, and Everytown support the bill.
“The Violence Policy Center applauds the introduction of the HEAR Act to ban silencers. Silencers are military-bred accessories that make it easier for criminals to take innocent lives and threaten law enforcement,” said Kristen Rand, States Government Affairs Director. “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 and terrorists. The Violence Policy Center documented the dangers of silencers in our 2019 study, Silencers: A Threat to Public Safety.”
“Annual gun deaths have dramatically increased from 33,000 to 49,000 in the United States since 20 children and six educators were shot a killed by a 20-year-old with an AR-15, in Sandy Hook Elementary School,” said Po Murray, Chairwoman of Newtown Action Alliance. “Silencers are dangerous weapons that make it easier for criminals to kill innocent Americans and more difficult for our police officers to protect our children and families. It’s time for Congress to pass this lifesaving legislation.”
“Common-sense regulations on firearm silencers and mufflers is a simple, straightforward step in encouraging responsible gun ownership,” said Elena Perez, Senior Policy Associate at March For Our Lives. “These devices drastically reduce the noise of shots fired, making it challenging to identify where the gunfire is coming from, a potentially fatal mistake in mass shootings. With gun violence increasing in severity across the country, why make already deadly weapons even deadlier?”
A gun 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 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.
Gun silencers have been used in gun violence related incidents over the last decade:
- In Monterey Park, California, on January 21, 2023, an armed assailant with a semi-automatic weapon modified with a homemade suppressor killed 11 people and injured nine others.
- 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.
- 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 were not 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 are among the fastest-growing segments of the gun industry. While several states, including New Jersey, outlaw gun silencers, these devices are currently permitted under federal law, but must be registered. According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, there are currently over 900,000 silencers registered under the National Firearms Act. A nationwide ban on silencers would ensure the devices are not trafficked into states where bans are in place.
Sen. Menendez and Rep. Watson Coleman are long-time champions for gun violence prevention and have led multiple efforts that would help address the epidemic of gun violence affecting the nation. This year, Sen. Menendez led Senate colleagues in the reintroduction of the Keep Americans Safe Act, which would ban the importation, sale, manufacturing, transfer, or possession of high-capacity magazines. He also reintroduced the Gun Records Restoration and Preservation Act, which would require the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to collect, preserve, and disclose gun records and gun tracing data. He also joined several of his colleagues this year in reintroducing legislation to ban assault weapons, close the Charleston Loophole, and require gun owners secure their firearms in a secure gun storage.
Sen. Menendez and Rep. Coleman have also supported previous efforts to ban assault weapons and pass universal background checks. Sen. Menendez voted for the original Assault Weapons Ban in 1994 as a member of the House of Representatives.