GOP braces for politics of gun debate

WASHINGTON — Voting to make it easier to buy noise suppressors for firearms seemed like a win for Republicans.

But when the National Rifle Association wasn’t present at a congressional hearing on the issue — which has been at the top of its legislative agenda for years — it signaled the GOP might be growing aware of the new optics surrounding the gun debate.

Indeed, what would have been an ugly partisan fight under ordinary circumstances has been made even uglier by recent events, including Sunday night’s massacre at an outdoor music festival in Las Vegas that quickly became the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

The saga at the center of the gun lobby’s absence on Capitol Hill, however, occurred June 14, when the NRA’s federal affairs director was scheduled to testify at a hearing on the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement, or SHARE Act, a legislative package containing various land conservation programs and provisions aimed at supporting hunters, fishers, anglers and other outdoorsmen.

The Hearing Protection Act — the suppressor bill — is part of this package.

That same day, a gunman opened fire on the Republican baseball team practice in Alexandria, Va., injuring law enforcement personnel and congressmen, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La. The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands, along with every other panel, postponed activity as Capitol Hill confronted the tragedy.

On Sept. 12, the subcommittee’s hearing was back on. This time, however, a representative from the NRA was not among the list of witnesses.

Reps. Rob Bishop of Utah and Tom McClintock of California, the top Republicans on the full Natural Resources Committee and federal lands subcommittee, respectively, deflected responsibility. They told McClatchy that witness invitations are extended by staff, not lawmakers.

Katie Schoettler, a committee spokeswoman, said decisions about who to invite were at the discretion of the subcommittee and that those who did testify contributed to a “robust discussion” on the SHARE Act.

NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker also would not comment on why a representative was not present at the rescheduled hearing, but said the group was in no way sidelined on an issue it has championed. The NRA, she said, would not be backing down in its public support for the legislation.

“The Hearing Protection Act is a top priority for the NRA, our members and the tens of millions of law-abiding…

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