A seemingly benign bill in Congress that aims to make it easier for people to afford hearing aids, and which has bipartisan support, has run afoul of a conservative gun rights group.

Gun Owners of America, a roughly 1.5 million-member group says it opposes the legislation out of fear that it punishes hunters, who it seems purchase a lot of hearing enhancement devices and don’t want those products subjected to further regulation.

However, the group’s opposition is based on false information about what the bill would do and appears to have more to do with the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, and what she represents.

“In the past, antigun senators like Warren have used any pretext, however attenuated, to interfere with hunting and the exercise of Second Amendment rights,” Gun Owners of America wrote in a May 16 letter to lawmakers. “And we can only interpret this legislative initiative to be the most recent of these.”

The Gun Owners of America, considered even more conservative than the more well-known and influential National Rifle Association, seemed to direct its animus at Warren and not the bill.

“Were Warren less of an enemy of the Second Amendment, we might give more credibility to the argument that we were protected,” the letter read. “But she isn’t. So we don’t.”


While Warren is the bill’s lead sponsor, there are three Republican senators – including Susan Collins of Maine – who have signed on as co-sponsors. The gun rights group makes no mention of them in its letter, only Warren, a fiery and progressive Democrat who is considered a possible presidential candidate in 2020.

Collins, in a May 22 press release announcing her support of the bill, said hearing aids are out of reach for many Americans simply because of the cost. Because only a few manufacturers make hearing aids, they have a virtual monopoly, which drives up the price. Additionally, many insurance companies don’t cover the cost.

“Hearing aids allow Americans who experience hearing loss to communicate with friends, family, coworkers, and others as well as participate fully in society,” she said. “I recently chaired an Aging Committee hearing on social isolation among seniors, which revealed that hearing loss, if left untreated, may contribute to loneliness, increasing the risk of serious mental and physical health outcomes.”

As written, the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017 would allow certain hearing aids for adults with mild to moderate hearing impairment to be sold over the counter by eliminating the requirement that people get a medical evaluation or sign a waiver. The goal is to make the devices less expensive.

It was introduced in the Senate in March and recently passed through committee with bipartisan support.

There is an identical bill in the House, sponsored by Rep. Joseph Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, that has 11 co-sponsors – eight Democrats and three Republicans.


The bill is backed by several elderly advocacy groups, including the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and the Gerontological Society of America. It is opposed by hearing aid manufacturers and a coalition of more than 20 conservative groups, led by Frontiers of Freedom.

George Landrith, that group’s director, has admitted recently that he was suspicious of the bill simply because Warren’s name was on it. But its letter claimed that the bill would allow the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to regulate sound amplification devices, or PSAPs, often used by hunters.

The bill would not do that, though.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, is one of the senators behind the bill and has said the proposal wouldn’t affect hunting tools in any way. He said the FDA is on record saying that it would not compromise personal sound amplifiers that hunters use.

In an opinion piece titled, “Fake News Tricks Conservatives On Merits Of Hearing Aid Deregulation,” in the Daily Caller, Samuel Hammond wrote that the Gun Owners of America and others are motivated by their hatred of Warren rather than by facts.

“The more than 20 conservative groups who signed his opposition letter have been tricked by fake news. The Hearing Industries Association and the country’s largest hearing aid manufacturer, Starkey Hearing Technologies, oppose the provision because it would increase their competition,” he wrote. “Of course, they would never put it in those terms. Instead, people like Landrith, whether he realizes it or not, are doing the dirty work for them by couching cronyism in the rhetoric of free markets.”

Hammond is a welfare and poverty analyst at the Niskanen Center, a libertarian leaning think tank in Washington, D.C.

Annie Clark, a spokeswoman for Collins, called attention Thursday to the Daily Caller piece and said the senator is glad the bill’s sponsors are pushing back.

“Senator Collins’ goal is to help increase the affordability and accessibility of the products that Americans with hearing loss need to communicate,” Clark said. “She appreciates that Senators Grassley and Warren are working to make it clear that this is all their bipartisan bill would do.”

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