House Bill (HB) 957 would trim away federal regulation around suppressors in Texas, forbidding cities and counties from enforcing federal suppressor laws and asserting that Texas-made suppressors are not subject to federal regulation. It has passed both chambers of the Texas legislature.
State Rep. Tom Oliverson (R-Cypress), a physician, presented both medical and legal reasons for his bill. Oliverson said suppressors can help prevent hearing damage, a benefit especially for hunters that forego ear protection to better hear their surroundings.
The major regulation on suppressors comes from the National Firearms Act of 1934, motivated at least in part by gangland slaughters like the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Under this law, suppressors must be approved and registered at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). Suppressor buyers must also pay a $200 transfer fee to the ATF and provide their fingerprints and photograph, unless they form a trust to register, which can cost hundreds of dollars more.
Under Oliverson’s bill, Texas-made suppressors would avoid this regulation. Suppressors manufactured here, stamped with a “Made in Texas” mark, would not be subject to federal law.
More broadly, the bill would also forbid state and local governments from enforcing federal laws regarding suppressors if they conflict with Texas law. The state, its agencies, all municipalities, district attorneys, and even higher education systems would all be prohibited from enforcing federal suppressor laws.
Here, the bill directs the Texas attorney general to seek a judgment from a federal court that this section of the bill would not conflict with the U.S. Constitution.
The process to seek this ruling would begin at the individual level. A private citizen would have to file a complaint with the attorney general that a government body has taken action to enforce federal suppressor laws.
Current Texas law says that mere ownership of a working suppressor is a third-degree felony unless it complies with federal regulation. Oliverson’s bill would strike this line entirely.
The Senate passed HB 957 on a party-line vote, 18 to 13. However, the House passed it 95 to 51 with some bipartisan support from Democrats. Reps. Bobby Guerra (D-McAllen), Joe Deshotel (D-Port Arthur), and Sergio Muñoz (D-Mission) joined 11 other Democrats in voting for the bill.
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