Hearing Aids for Hunters

There are many things the framers of the U.S. Constitution, living as they did in the 18th century, could not have foreseen. They could not have anticipated the vast changes wrought by the industrial and technological revolutions, and the myriad questions they would pose for constitutional law. Should railroads have right of way over bridges? Should law enforcement agencies be permitted to listen in on your personal phone conversations for security reasons? Should private citizens be permitted to own high-powered assault weapons? And so on.

Yet another emerged in the past few days: that somebody would claim that government regulation of hearing aids — a device itself unknown to the framers — would someday be seized upon as a threat to their Second Amendment rights to carry a gun. In fact, few living in 2017 could have foreseen it either.

Let’s back up a little. A bipartisan group of senators has proposed a federal regulatory change that would enable the sale of hearing aids over the counter, and not only by prescription.

The co-authors of the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act say they are interested in making the devices more accessible and cheaper, so that some of the estimated 40 million people with untreated hearing impairments might benefit from the technology. This sounds like a fairly straightforward idea, and no surprise that companion drafts were making smooth progress through the Senate and the House. It’s the sort of constituent-friendly legislation that even Republicans and Democrats can get together on. Who could oppose hearing aids for greater numbers of people who need them?

The Gun Owners of America, that’s who. This organization, which claims 1.5 million members and promotes itself as a “no-compromise” alternative to the National Rifle Association, has marched in where even the NRA fears to tread, or hadn’t thought of treading.

GOA executive director Erich Pratt contends that the bill opens the door to federal control of hunting aids known as Personal Sound Amplification Products, or PSAPs, which are used in the tracking of game animals and are currently available in stores.

“We’re asking Congress to make it clear that the regulation of hearing aids will not apply to those devices used by gun owners,” Pratt said. “We’ve seen how an anti-gun administration like Obama can redefine terms to keep people from using their Second Amendment rights.”

Co-sponsors Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) deny any such sinister intention. Grassley said the proposal wouldn’t affect hunting tools. It “wouldn’t regulate or direct the FDA to regulate PSAPs, including those used by hunters,” adding that the hunting gadgets “do not go through a medical device evaluation. The bill doesn’t change that.”

The GOA isn’t convinced.

“There’s a pretty good chance that these hunting devices would fall within Warren’s definition of ‘over-the-counter hearing aid.’ Which would mean that a new federal bureaucracy would be in charge of regulating hunting,” Pratt said in a letter addressed to the House Energy and Commerce Committee last week.

“Were Warren less of an enemy of the Second Amendment, we might give more credibility to the argument that we were protected by the ‘perceived … hearing impairment’ language of the Warren bill. But she isn’t. So we don’t.”

Thus, the ad hominem crosses the line into the ad absurdum. It is one thing to take an uncompromising stand on one’s perceived constitutional rights, and to fight those who would restrict or deprive you of those rights. As such, Senator Warren, a vociferous advocate of gun control, is fair game.

It is quite another, however, to claim that Warren and her colleagues from both parties in both houses of Congress have joined in a plot to smuggle gun control measures into law in the guise of health-care reform. Are they all in it together? Did Warren secretly win the others over to her malign cause? Or are they dupes of the arch-liberal?

It is quite obvious that the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act, a piece of legislation designed to aid the hearing impaired, is just that and nothing more. We reject the worldview that sees a gun-confiscating fed under every bed. And we take the side of the hearing-impaired over the thinking-impaired.

It may be that the lawmakers can safely ignore the objections. With broad backing, the legislation will hopefully pass, in any event.

Even if there would be some validity to the GOA claims, and Warren, the nemesis of gun control, were really plotting to use the law to gain a foothold in controlling guns — or hearing aids for hunters — we would still be in favor of the law.

That’s because the tangible benefit for the millions of people with hearing problems far outweighs the potential disadvantage for hunters, most of whom kill animals as sport and not because they have an interest in the meat, skin or antlers. If it comes to that, let the hunters stalk their prey with their own ears.

We think Congress and the American people should be able to hear that.