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Kaine & Colleagues Introduce Bicameral Legislation to Outlaw Gun Silencers

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tim Kaine joined Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ-12) in reintroducing the Help Empower Americans to Respond (HEAR) Act, bicameral gun safety legislation that would ban the importation, sale, manufacturing, transfer, and possession of gun silencers or suppressors. A gun silencer, also known as a suppressor, is attached to the barrel of a firearm in order to curb its sound, muzzle flash, and kickback. Silencers make it more difficult to detect the location of an active shooter, posing a great danger to law enforcement officers and the public. They also diminish the effectiveness of gunshot detection technology that relies on audio sensors to record the sound, time, and location of loud noises. A gun silencer was used in the Virginia Beach mass shooting on May 31, 2019.

“Far too many communities have been devastated by gun violence. Gun silencers, like the one used in Virginia Beach, put more lives in danger by preventing law enforcement from quickly locating an active shooter,” said Kaine. “Banning gun silencers is a commonsense step to better protect our communities and save lives.”

In addition to prohibiting gun silencers, the HEAR Act would:

  •  Authorize a buyback program for silencers using Byrne JAG grants;
  •  Provide 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 purposes, and for certain authorized testing or experimentation.

Joining Kaine and Menendez in cosponsoring the HEAR Act are Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

The market for gun silencers is among the fastest-growing segments of the gun industry. 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 these devices are not trafficked into states where bans are in place.

Gun silencers have been used in other 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 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. The shooter used a silencer to help conceal his murders, so nearby residents did not report the shots.

Kaine has long supported efforts to prevent gun violence and make our communities safer. Last year, Kaine voted to pass the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, landmark legislation to curb gun violence. Kaine has recently introduced legislation to close the loophole that allows gun sales to proceed if a background check is not completed within a certain time period and legislation to ban the marketing of firearms to children. He has also introduced the Virginia Plan to Reduce Gun Violence, which would improve background checks, strengthen safeguards for victims of domestic violence, and establish a federal Extreme Risk Protection Order process to remove firearms from individuals who pose a high risk of harming themselves or others.

Full text of the bill is available here.