An American Woman’s Perspective on Silencers in the USA
Originally written for Guns & Tactics Magazine April 22, 2017
There’s a Congressional bill for gun suppressors that is causing an uproar of attention and a decline in sales in our firearms industry. The crowd stands still with deer eyes while they wait to see what happens…
The bill states below:
Hearing Protection Act of 2017
The Hearing Protection Act amends the Internal Revenue Code to: (1) eliminate the $200 transfer tax on firearm silencers, and (2) treat any person who acquires or possesses a firearm silencer as meeting any registration or licensing requirements of the National Firearms Act. Any person who pays the transfer tax after October 22, 2015, may receive a refund of the tax.
The bill amends the federal criminal code to preempt state or local laws that tax or regulate firearm silencers.
Introduced on January 9th, 2017, the Hearing Protection Act of 2017 has a few people penny-pinching their wallets in hopes that they can save a few hundred bucks before they purchase a suppressor (silencer). The federal government originally started regulating machine guns, sawed-off shotguns and suppressors/silencers in 1934, over 80 years ago. Congress added a tax stamp to deter the sales, but the reasoning was flawed. During the Great Depression, hunters illegally hunted game on and off-season using suppressors. So, Congress wanted to tax and license suppressors to help control the poaching.
A few decades later, Congress decided to add one-to-ten years imprisonment, if while committing a felony, a firearm was used (88 Stat. 1214, (Oct22, 1968)). The law did not distinguish what type of firearm or if a silencer was used or not. In fact, during 1986, Congress adopted a 20-year additional sentence for crimes committed with a silencer, then enhanced to a 30 year add on in 1988 with no clear reason. The best reason given was hired assassinations and contract murders. But, not mentioned by Congress: "The most thorough article on the 1986 Act, of which the silencer provision was one small part, does not even mention the silencer provision" (Hardy, 1986:585). However, looking at the congressional hearings held on the bill, it is clear that the silencer provision was a reaction to the murder of a Jewish talk-show host by white-supremacists. Alan Berg was a well-known radio personality in Denver, whose outspoken criticism of hate groups resulted in his murder in June of 1984.
Chicago Police Department Detectives Rudy Nimocks and James Malloy also have assured us that unless the bullet passes through the victim and can not be recovered, ballistics reports would normally not be able to tell if the bullet had gone through a silencer/suppressor. They also stated that in their combined fifty years of detective work, they could only recall one case in which a silencer might have been used to commit a crime. It seems very unlikely that there are a lot of silencers used in crime and that is not detected.
Now let’s use those statistics with an event I have personally dealt with recently. In August, I was struck by a truck while cycling. The odds of that happening and also killing you are very high. In 2013, an estimated 494,000 emergency department visits were due to bicycle-related injuries. Of those visits, over 900 bicyclists were killed according to the CDC.
With all those reports, human behavior/error is the main contributing factors to these collisions. Statistics prove that over 73% of all reported accidents are caused by driver or rider error. Around 80% of those accidents occur in broad daylight. The most active times are weekdays between 8:00-9:00 am and 3:00-6:00 pm. Also, most of the accidents occur in urban areas and non-intersections. For example, my accident was along the side of the road where I was legally on the right side of the road and in my appropriate area.
Take those numbers and compare them to the risks of owning a suppressor. They do not even compare and are judged extremely harsher.
On the positive side, there are over 1422 cases online where just displaying a gun has saved lives. Over 2.5 million times a year a gun is used in self-defense and saves someone’s life. Law-abiding citizens use a gun in self-defense about 6,850 times a day. The majority of these reports show users will only brandish their gun or fire a warning shot to scare off their attackers. Less than 8% of the time an honest citizen will kill or wound his/her attacker. Women, notably, have used a gun about 200,000 times every year to protect against sexual abuse. Firearms are proven to be used about 80 times more to protect honest citizens and law abiders than to take lives.
Suppressors becoming easier to get for the common law-abiding citizen has no bearing on crime levels increasing and there is no way to prove any increases. The average criminal has no idea that there is an enhanced 30-year sentence to a felony crime committed with a suppressor, let alone knowing that committing it with a gun or weapon increases their penalty. Since one can effectively muffle the sound of the firearm by doing nothing more than wrapping it in a towel, it is unlikely that laws banning professionally manufactured (or home-made) silencers are likely to have any real effect on crime rates. For example, a criminal used a towel to silence his firearm and suffered no additional crime because it was merely a towel; People V. Garcia, 2006 WL 3307392, *7 (Cal. Ct. App). These laws are more targeted to the dumb criminal or hobbyist rather than professional killers. True professionals, who know what the penalties are and know how to muffle a firearm with improvised devices, can easily avoid the additional risks of punishment.
Currently, there are over 60,000 Americans legally in possession of suppressors and silencers. The government goes through over 2,000 submissions for silencers per year. (Congress, 1984:121). Tens-of-thousands of Americans each year use silencers for sporting activities such as target shooting and beneficial activities such as varmint hunting. In hunting legal animal games, declared pests, and infestation varmints (squirrels or hogs), shooting a non-silenced firearm can cause all the animals in field to run away or run into the holes. But, the silenced firearm will allow the hunter to rid the problematic pests and animal varmints without scaring away the rest of them.
The most common use of the silencer is for target practice and competitive shooting. This allows the individual to practice without disturbing neighbors and also to help first-time shooters realize the fun of shooting without the loud retort (noise) from the gun. First-time shooters are usually distracted and scared of the gun simply from the noise it makes. All these reasons are completely legal and proven effective terms for use.
As a shooter and firearms instructor myself, I personally have dealt with clients from all around the world, from military to film and tv celebrities. I can truly say that sound is one of the leading causes of what scares newer shooters away as well as the "unknown" factor. Shooting with newer students using suppressors has always been a good time because it never hurts their ears and usually assists in recoil management. For the newer shooter, this helps make the firearm easier to operate.
Silencers work by trapping the gases inside the baffles of the suppressor, which muffles the sound. All the hot gases escape from the end of the barrel and the suppressor catches the gas. A good one can decrease the sounds by at least 20 decibels. The silencing effect also depends on the ammunition. The less gunpowder there is in the cartridge, the less noise to reduce. A primary example would be .22 caliber rimfire.
The legitimate and lawful use of silencers definitely outweighs the number of times they are used for crimes. They have a legitimate civilian use, help hunters stay stealthy when hunting varmints, and increase the pleasantness of shooting sports. Increasing the pleasantness of shooting sports alone increases the exposure of the sport to the nation and lessens the fear factor to the normal law-abiding citizen.
This bill could take a while to pass, but in the meantime, if you’re looking to purchase a suppressor, you should. Waiting to save $200 on your silencer could put your favorite silencer companies out of business.
The choice is yours, but I know I will be getting a few choice suppressors to add to my collection.
 According to the National Safety Council, the total number of gun deaths (by accidents, suicides, and homicides) accounts for less than 30,000 deaths per year. See Injury Facts, published yearly by the National Safety Council, Itasca, Illinois.
 Kleck and Gertz, "Armed Resistance to Crime," at 173, 185.
 Violence Policy Center, Firearm Silencers Threaten Public Safety, New VPC Study Finds. 11 Feb 2016 (http://www.vpc.org/press/firearm-silencers-threaten-public-safety-new-vpc-study-finds/)
 Western Criminology Review. Criminal Use of Firearm Silencers by Paul A. Clark, Alaska Public Defender Agency. (http://www.westerncriminology.org/documents/WCR/v08n2/clark.pdf)