Jennifer Wexton, a Democrat, is a former prosecutor and Virginia state senator, and currently represents Virginia’s 10th Congressional District. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. View more opinion at CNN.
(CNN)Gunfire is loud — it can even be louder than a jet engine at takeoff. In an active shooter situation, being able to hear the distinct sound of gunshots can mean the difference between life and death.
It’s what a Virginia Tech student who lived through the 2007 campus shooting said helped to save his life.Jennifer Wexton The sound of gunshots piercing the air is often the first way potential victims in an active shooter situation are alerted to danger. In the aftermath of May’s Virginia Beach mass shooting, when a legally bought silencer was used, survivors described the sounds of suppressed gunfire as something akin to a nail gun. The sound of a nail gun doesn’t make someone run, hide, or call the police. Read More Silencers — or suppressors, as the National Rifle Association likes to brand them — serve a single purpose: to diminish the sound of gunfire. In the wrong hands, they are not only a serious safety risk to the public, but also make it more difficult for law enforcement to locate armed individuals, putting more innocent lives at risk.That’s why I introduced the Empowering Law Enforcement for Safer Firearm Transfers Act to bring law enforcement to the table when evaluating who should be able to own these potentially deadly accessories. My bill inserts a sensible step into the application process that gives local law enforcement a 90-day window to deny an application if they have information that the applicant poses a danger to themselves or others, or if there is a reasonable likelihood that they intend to use the weapon for anything other than lawful purposes. Supreme Court rejects challenges to silencer lawsSilencers, machine guns and other destructive devices have been regulated under the National Firearms Act (NFA) since 1934. These are not your standard-issue handguns or rifles. They are highly dangerous weapons that can inflict mass casualties in a single incident. As such, any transfer or sale must be approved by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). The local chief law enforcement officer, or CLEO, used to be required to sign off on the transfer or sale as part of the application, but that was changed to a simple notification requirement in 2016, leaving law enforcement powerless to prevent potentially dangerous individuals from getting their hands on a deadly device. More and more, we see our police officers serving as social workers and problem solvers. Law enforcement knows our local communities best. Whether it’s juvenile delinquency, domestic violence or mental health crises, our officers are on the front lines, engaging in broad community health and safety issues. Therefore, these officers are often the first ones to recognize that someone in their community may pose a danger to themselves or others. For example, a local sheriff’s officer may be called to visit an individual’s home multiple times while responding to mental health interventions, which could result in a mental health referral rather than an involuntary commitment or arrest. That individual might not pose a risk on paper if they were to apply for a silencer, but local law enforcement would be aware of the potential threat.For over 80 years, we’ve had strong protections in place to prevent silencers from being used in crimes. By and large, these protections have proven effective, but we have seen what happens when silencers are used in crimes and the tragedy that has ensued.Stay up to date…
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This bill makes it easier for law enforcement to do its job and intervene when appropriate. By giving law enforcement a window of time to assess whether there is a reasonable threat that these weapons would enter dangerous hands, we are better able to keep our communities safe. It’s common sense to undertake practical public safety protections before granting someone access to a destructive device, and no one is more qualified to make that determination than local law enforcement, who know their communities best and are the first to rush into danger.