AUSTIN, Texas (April 23, 2019) – Last week, a Texas House committee unanimously passed a bill that would decriminalize firearm sound suppressors under state law and end state enforcement of federal laws regulating them in the state.
Rep. Tom Oliverson (R-Houston), along with a bipartisan coalition of three cosponsors, introduced House Bill 2286 (HB2286) on Feb. 25. Under the proposed law, state agencies could not adopt any rule, order, ordinance, or policy to enforce a federal statute, order, rule, or regulation that purports to regulate a firearm suppressor that does not exist under the laws the state. It would also repeal a provision of state law making it an offense to possess, manufacture, transport, repair or sell a firearm suppressor unless it is registered by the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record.
On April 10, the House State Affairs Committee approved HB2286 by an 11-0 vote.
In effect, passage of HB2286 would end all state regulation of so-called firearm “silencers.”
Suppressors simply muffle the sound of a gun. They do not literally silence firearms. Nevertheless, the federal government heavily regulates silencers under the National Firearms Act. The feds charge a $200 tax on the purchase of the devices. Buying one also requires months-long waits after filing extensive paperwork with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The repeal of state suppressor restrictions in Texas would not alter federal law, nor would it end federal enforcement, but it would remove a layer of law hindering access to these harmless devices. The widespread easing of suppressor regulation would subtly undermine federal efforts to unconstitutionally regulate firearms. As Texas activist Tom Glass put it, “It would not stop feds from attempting to enforce, but at least it would get Texas law right.”
As we’ve seen with marijuana and industrial hemp, a federal regulation becomes ineffective when states ignore it and pass laws encouraging the prohibited activity. Or when the state decriminalizes and people start ignoring the federal prohibition without any further state “permission” to do so.
Either way, the federal government lacks the enforcement power necessary to maintain its ban in such a climate, and people will increasingly take on the risk of federal sanctions if they know the state will not interfere. This increases when the state actively encourages “the market.”
Less restrictive state gun laws such as HB2286 can have a similar impact on federal gun laws. It will make it that much more difficult for the feds to enforce federal gun control, should the people defy it, and increase the likelihood that states with few limits will simply refuse to cooperate with future federal enforcement efforts.
State actions like HB2286 lower barriers for those wanting to the option of defending themselves with firearms and encourage a “gun-friendly” environment that would make federal efforts to limit firearms that much more difficult.
HB2286 will now move to the House floor for further consideration.