If you are someone who shoots for fun, hunts, or carries for self defense, you’ll likely know many of the points I am about to discuss. I hope this post gives you a place to send friends who may not understand why anyone would want a supressor. If you aren’t a “gun person” you might not be aware of any of what I am about to discuss and this post is especially for you. I’m going to get a teensy bit political here and discuss H.R. 367 The Hearing Protection Act of 2017.
What does the Hearing Protection Act Do?
Simply put, the Hearing Protection Act removes regulations for the purchase and sale of suppressors, also known as silencers (which is a terribly inaccurate term…read on). Currently suppressors are regulated by the National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA).
A Brief History of Suppressor Regulation
The NFA is the very same legislation that regulates machine guns and sawed off shotguns. This was America’s first legislation aimed at gun control. Rather than attempt to ban firearms, which they knew would violate the 2nd Amendment, lawmakers sought to impose taxes to make it more difficult to obtain certain guns. Keep in mind, 1934 was the heyday of mob activity in the US and everyone was terrified.
So, in an attempt to tax away the gun crime, a $200 tax was levied on certain items (Class 3 NFA Weapons, if you will) and strict penalties for failing to follow procedure and pay the tax were imposed. This tax remains $200 today. It’s still not a small amount of money but think about what $200 meant in 1934; it was a fortune (probably upwards of $3,000 in terms of today).
For some reason, and you’ll find several theories on this reason if you research, suppressors were included with these items and they remain under the purview of the National Firearms Act of 1934 to this day. In 1972, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) was created and the enforcement of the National Firearms Act fell under their jurisdiction.
$200 Doesn’t Sound THAT Bad, Why Are You Complaining?
Oh, if only the $200 were the only hurdle. Currently, to purchase a suppressor, the following must be done. I am speaking from the perspective of buying as an individual because I will write an entire post on Gun Trusts soon.
- Make sure you fit the requirements (over 21, an American citizen, and able to pass a background check)
- Pick out the suppressor you want to purchase
- Find a dealer who sells it
- Buy your suppressor. You’ll see online it says “the dealer will set aside your suppressor.” Ha! In no other industry will you see someone set aside a purchased item for you for MONTHS and MONTHS. You have to fork over the money before it will be “set aside.”
- Fill out the BATFE Form 4
- Submit passport photos and fingerprint cards along with your form
- Pay your $200 tax
- Hurry up and wait. And I don’t mean wait a little while. We are talking six months MINIMUM here. I’ve heard stories of eighteen months.
I will confess it has gotten a bit easier now some stores have kiosks where you can submit your fingerprints without having to find someone to complete a card for to you (huge shout out to Silencer Shop for making this happen). Also, until last year an individual had to seek approval from their local Chief Law Enforcement Officer (CLEO) as well. This meant if your local CLEO didn’t like civilians having firearms, was a jerk, or was just too busy fighting crime — you were screwed. Luckily, those days are gone.
A Disclaimer Before We Go On
I firmly, strongly, and wholeheartedly believe anyone who purchases a firearm needs to pass a background check. I am not complaining about this portion of the process whatsoever. But a background check does not take a year. I’m not speaking of criminals trying to buy a “silencer” so they can off people in their beds while their loved ones sleep next to them (we’ll get to that in a minute). I am talking about decent, law abiding Americans who have to pay hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars for a tool and then wait ages for the folks at the ATF to get around to processing their paperwork.
But Erin, Silencers Are BAD, right?
Sigh. Deep Breaths. NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!! They are no more “bad” than choosing a hunting knife with a nice handle to protect your hand.
I get it. You’ve seen the movies that show a gun with a suppressor fire with only a small “ting” or “thump” sound. Like many things in the movies, this isn’t accurate. Here’s some data: a gunshot is LOUD. By loud, I mean somewhere in the realm of 140 to 160 decibels. If you’d like to know how loud this is, stand 100ft from an airliner who’s engines are running full throttle. Being too close to a gunshot with no hearing protection JUST ONCE can cause permanent damage. That’s why we all wear hearing protection religiously.
A suppressor reduces the volume of a gunshot by around 30 decibels, bringing the shot to about 120-140 decibels. For the New Yorkers among us, that’s about the level of a jackhammer. So still annoying, still something you’d want to wear hearing protection around if there were longer exposure, but a TON less likely to make to you go deaf super fast.
Don’t believe me? Here’s a video of someone shooting a suppressed Glock 36:
Still loud, right? The movies have lied to you. A suppressor is like a muffler for your gun, not a miracle silencing device.
Ok, But I’ve Heard Other Reasons Silencers Are Bad! What About Those? Don’t Bad Guys Use Silencers
Eh, not really. Sure, there are outliers. But of the 600,000 firearms confiscated by the ATF from 2012-2015, only 390 suppressors were found and taken. This could be due to their intense regulation but likely it is because most criminals aren’t interested in paying $$$ to obtain them for their crimes. I know there are exceptions but there will always be exceptions (for example, people who use vehicles to commit terrorist attacks or show up on a college campus with a knife and intent to kill).
The other major complaint I have heard is that programs such as ShotSpotter can’t work effectively to help locate the shots fired (and therefore get law enforcement there faster) when weapons are suppressed. It isn’t true. Check out this article to get the word from the horse’s mouth. Here’s my favorite bit:
We have successfully if not inadvertently detected confirmed suppressed gunfire within our existing deployments.
Those are the words of ShotSpotter’s Chief Executive.
Well, If Not to Commit Heinous Crimes Without Being Heard, Why Would You Want a Suppressor?
This brings us back to the Hearing Protection Act. Quite simply, shooters want suppressors to preserve their hearing. In another part of my life, I am a trained singer and music is important to me. I want to hear it at 80. But I also like to shoot. Shouldn’t I be able to enjoy both for my entire life?
Suppressors also significantly cut down on noise complaints. This means the constant battle between homeowners and outdoor ranges (that’s another post, I suppose) could ease. Or, if like I did growing up, you live in the country, you’ll be far less likely to wake up to the sound of gun shots at 5am during deer hunting season.
Suppressors have also been known to increase accuracy because they improve recoil and a less deafening sound allows the shooter to have more control over flinching or tensing. This means hunters can fire fewer shots! Win for all, especially the animals being hunted. Believe it or not, most hunters want a good clean shot that ends things quickly for the hunted animal. Improved accuracy makes that more likely.
Finally, let’s talk economics…many of the largest manufacturers of suppressors are in the United States. They are doing fairly well currently. But an you imagine the jobs and revenue if these items were not so heavily regulated? And the number of newly available jobs for Americans would be staggering. The $200 per person would be easily surpassed with sales tax charged for the many people who would buy suppressors if they didn’t have to jump through hoops. Here’s an article that speaks a bit more about the numbers.
The Purpose of This Post
There is really no good reason for suppressors to be regulated the way they are. It not only costs law abiding citizens time and money but it also bogs down the ATF tremendously and costs them time and resources on which they are already very low. Feelings about the ATF aside, I’d rather they be working on the drug problem in our country that is killing about four times as many Americans as guns each year.
If this post means anything to you, please share it far and wide. I’d love to see some increased support and pressure for the Hearing Protection Act, which has been stuck in committee since February. If you believe, as I do, that it is a simple decision and support the Hearing Protection Act, please contact your Representatives and Senators and let them know.
If you still think suppressors are inherently dangerous and should be carefully regulated, please let me know your thoughts and let’s have a discussion.
Photo by p_a_h