If you watch any film or television show that features any aspect of contract killing or the intelligence community, you’re bound to see the typical scene where some agent, or hitman, whips out a gun and attaches a suppressor at the end in order to carry out their mission undetected. Yet, this is only for entertainment purposes. The bill that aims to make suppressors more available for civilian use revolves around hunting and sports shooting, where such a device could prevent hearing loss for avid shooters. Oh, and the gun control community isn’t happy about it. Right now, a civilian may obtain a silencer in certain state, but only after going through a background check conducted by the ATF under the National Firearms Act (via the Hill):
“Suppressors significantly reduce the chance of hearing loss for anyone who enjoys the shooting sports,” Chris Cox, executive director of National Rifle Association’s lobbying arm, said in a statement.
Gun silencers, or suppressors, not only reduce the noise, but also the recoil from firing a shot, advocates say.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), Gun Owners of America (GOA), and American Suppressor Association are also backing the legislation.
GOA executive director Larry Pratt said it is “not only unconstitutional but embarrassing” that the government places so many restrictions on the purchase of gun silencers.
“Silencers are not used in crime, nor would they be if more widely available,” Pratt said.
Gun silencers are prohibited in a handful of states under current law, while hunters may use them only after going through a much more rigorous background check process in 37 other states, according to the NRA.
“The requirements to get a suppressor are the same as to get a machine gun,” explained NRA spokesman Lars Dalseide.
The gun silencer bill would speed up the process by permitting anyone who passes a basic firearms background check to purchase a suppressor.
Then again, some folks on the left support this piece of legislation. I found this 2007 post in the Daily Kos (yes, you read that right), where a member, a self-identified gun owner and Democrat, made the case for why his party should support increasing civilian access to suppressors:
Firearm suppressors were relatively uncommon in the early 20th Century United States. Communities and populations were spread widely apart, and it was easy to find places to shoot recreationally.
The only common use of suppressors was in hunting out of season - remember, this was the Depression and if you had a starving family it made sense to take your suppressed 30-06 out to bag a deer out of season. The addition of suppressors to the NFA was mostly at the request of the Fish and Game enforcement folks - so they could charge mere poachers with a federal felony firearms violation instead of just the minor crime of poaching! Classist much?
The years under Prohibition had several high-profile machine gun murders (of course, the total number of machine gun murders was vanishingly low - even today, machine gun murders are virtually nonexistent), so the Congress was under pressure to Do Something.
So the NFA was passed, making possession of a machinegun, short-barreled rifle, short-barreled shotgun, destructive device (eg. bombs), or suppressor without a $200 tax stamp a 10 year federal felony. This class is called "Title II" firearms.
Widespread use of suppressors would be a health benefit.
Even exposure to 85dBA of noise causes hearing loss over time. Though target shooters seldom are without earplugs, hunters often do not wear ear protection because they need to hear the sounds of the environment around them. Deregulating suppressors would be a net health benefit to shooters and hunters.
Widespread use of suppressors would be an environmental benefit.
Shooting ranges, even those situated out in the country, often are a source of noise pollution. Though some people would advocate "just close the damn shooting range!", such an action would create stress and conflict in the community. Instead, we Democrats should stand behind our environmental principles and make it easier for these target sports enthusiasts to be good community members by reducing noise pollution.
Widespread use of suppressors would not result in increased crime.
Because suppressors would be subject to the same background checks as an ordinary pistol, they wouldn't be sold over the counter. Additionally, suppressors for pistols are several inches long. The primary reason that criminals use handguns is concealability [sic].
Yet, this writer also added that the Republican Party would have a “stroke” if Democrats did this.
The Republicans count on having the gun owner vote, and to have Democrats take a stand to make suppressors easier to obtain would absolutely make the NRA and the GOP shake in their boots - "Holy crap. Aren't we the party of gun owners? Where will our votes go?!?"
Yeah, times have changed a lot since 2007. For starters, support and opposition to gun control has become a more ingrained feature between the two parties and liberals and conservatives. Liberals are now more anti-gun, while conservatives are more pro-civil rights on Second Amendment issues. Additionally, this was written pre-Heller decision, which was one of many legal victories won by gun rights supporters. Heller established that there is a constitutional right to own a firearm unrelated to militia service in federal enclaves. McDonald v. Chicago expanded this ruling at the state level. There have been other legal victories seen at the lower courts preventing further curtailment of carry laws or outright bans on the sale of handguns within city limits since these landmark rulings in 2008 and 2010.
BONUS: Here’s your typical suppressor-on-gun scene from 1962’s Dr. No–the first James Bond film–where 007 kills a SPECTRE agent sent to kill him while on assignment in Jamaica.