It can be easy to feel insulated from national events on campus — the demands of coursework, social involvement and employment create a barrier between our world, campus and the larger country. The nature of academia, though, means that we must be more alert than average; our responsibility to be politically engaged is enhanced, not diminished, by our status as students. 

But sometimes, important pieces of legislation often remain ignored by students. One such example is the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act, which House Republicans have recently sent to the floor for a vote after a brief, tasteful pause on debate following the shooting of Steve Scalise, R-La., House of Representatives Majority Whip.

Among other things, the bill would dramatically loosen regulations pertaining to gun silencers, making them much easier to obtain. Ostensibly to protect the hearing of hunters and other responsible gun owners, this bill — in serving no benefit beyond alternatives like inexpensive hearing protection — exists to soothe fears in the short term at the cost of significant human damage in the long term.

Silencers, also referred to as “suppressors,” were invented in the early 20th century and quickly put to use by the United States’s military. Most states allow for the purchase and use of silencers, though federal law seems to recognize their criminal danger: Violent crimes committed with a silencer carry a minimum sentence of thirty years in prison.

Silencers, as of today, face somewhat burdensome regulation — they require a $200 transfer tax and have a license waiting time of up to nine months. In addition to this, they can cost more than $1,000. All of these factors work to make silencers fairly rare; there are fewer than one million being used by civilians in the United States, compared to nearly 300 million guns. SHARE would reverse this.

At risk of being controversial, I don’t believe you need a silencer to hunt deer, as is legal in 40 states. At even greater risk, I don’t believe you need a silencer for self-defense (neither you nor the person causing you to fear for your life will be in a position to mind the noise).

SHARE is opposed by many police organizations and gun control groups, and for good reason. Silencers decrease a weapon’s recoil, allowing for greater accuracy. They also, of course, disguise the gun’s noise, potentially making it harder for targets to identify a shooter. It’s important to remember we aren’t discussing a toy to be used in gun clubs or a novel alternative to ear protection — these are devices designed explicitly to increase one’s ability to kill.  

A cynical faction of Democrats has suggested the gun debate is one the left should retreat from — that gun control must be sacrificed to other political priorities. This speculation, I think, fails to consider the real point of being — and voting — “pro-gun.” This segment of the electorate doesn’t comprise constitutional purists who want to protect their interpretation of the framers’ intent, it comprises people who are afraid — afraid of inadequacy, of the “other,” of being vulnerable to the Democrats and government overreach.

I characterize them this way because there were about 750,000 guns sold the month following the Sept. 11 attacks, but more than one million the month following Barack Obama’s first election and roughly two million following his re-election. Sales rose again toward the end of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, when she seemed guaranteed to win.

It would be ridiculous for the left to sacrifice this issue because of an opposing argument based in fear, especially a fear of them, their political opposition. Backtracking on gun control thus fails to win votes and leaves the country without a coalition saying, “Perhaps we should reign in the civilian ability to cause massive loss of life, both to themselves and to others.”

I would be remiss not to mention the Democrats actually supporting this bill. I don’t understand what, even with possible threats in 2018 and 2020, a Democrat has to fear simply holding the line on gun restrictions. Conservative voters won’t remember or care that you voted for SHARE, and your left-wing base will see it as a betrayal. The reward — whether measured in votes gained or campaign dollars from the National Rifle Association — is minuscule compared to the risk.

As Donald Trump decries “bad dudes on both sides,” and as Republicans warn of the “militant left,” I would appeal to House members’ self-interest: if not for the safety of your country and its people, for your own. 

Hank Minor can be reached at hminor@umich.edu.

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