“As we saw in Virginia Beach, silencers in the wrong hands pose a serious safety risk to the public,” Wexton said in a statement. “No one knows their local communities better than law enforcement. And no one is better suited to determine if an individual should have access to a dangerous accessory, like a silencer, than the men and women who protect us every day.”
Gun-control advocates say silencers are dangerous because they mask the sound of gunfire, making it hard to recognize. Survivors of the Virginia Beach shooting said the gunfire sounded like a nail gun.
Opponents of stricter gun laws say silencers, also called suppressors, are legal in 40 states for hunting and reduce the sound of a gunshot for hearing protection purposes.
Currently, someone who wants to buy a silencer or other NFA-regulated weapon must pass an extensive background check — including fingerprints, photographs and the firearm serial number — and pay a $200 tax.
Applicants must also notify the top law enforcement officer, usually a police chief or sheriff, where they live, according to Wexton’s office.
Under Wexton’s bill, law enforcement officials would have a 90-day window to block the sale or transfer of the weapon if they determine applicants pose a danger to themselves or others, or there’s a reasonable likelihood they plan to use the weapon to commit a crime.
If law enforcement does not act within 90 days, and the applicant passes the background check, the sale or transfer goes through automatically.
Co-sponsors of the bill include Reps. Gerald E. Connolly and Don Beyer (both Va.) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s nonvoting representative — all Democrats.
“My constituents sent me to Congress to try to end the gun violence epidemic,” Wexton said. “As lawmakers, we have an obligation to do everything in our power to save lives and make our communities safer. We must put politics aside and work together to pass common sense protections that keep our constituents safe. This is practical legislation that both Republicans and Democrats can support.”
The National Rifle Association opposes Wexton’s attempt to revive the sign-off provision, which spokeswoman Catherine Mortensen called “part of a failed gun control agenda.”
“Giving local law enforcement an additional three months to delay a person’s application is just more government pile on. Finally, there is zero evidence a suppressor had any impact on the lethality of the Virginia Beach shooting,” she said in a statement.
In 1934, Congress passed the National Firearms Act, which put restrictions and special taxes on machine guns, in hopes of curtailing gang violence.
Law enforcement had to sign off on the purchases or transfers until 2016.
Anticipating an increase in the number of checks and potential burden on law enforcement to approve or deny each request, the law enforcement sign-off was removed.
Days after the Virginia Beach shooting, the Supreme Court rejected a challenge to federal regulation of gun silencers
Eight states urged the court to affirm that the Second Amendment protects “silencers and other firearms accessories.”
Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has called a July 9 special session of the Virginia General Assembly to address gun laws after the Virginia Beach shooting.
Democrats at the state and federal level have called for increased regulation to ban silencers and high-capacity magazines, such as those used in the Virginia Beach incident.