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Copyright © February 2016 Violence Policy Center

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The Violence Policy Center (VPC) is a national nonprofit educational organization that conducts research and public education on violence in America and provides information and analysis to policymakers, journalists, advocates, and the general public.

This publication was funded with the support of the Lisa & Douglas Goldman Fund. For a complete list of VPC publications with document links, please visit http://www.vpc.org/publications To learn more about the Violence Policy Center, or to make a tax-deductible contribution to help support our work, please visit www.vpc.org.

 

INTRODUCTION

Silencers are devices that are attached to the barrel of a firearm to reduce the amount of noise generated by the firing of the weapon. By providing a larger contained space for the gases generated by the discharge of the gun’s ammunition round to dissipate and cool before escaping, silencers reduce the sound generated by the weapon’s firing.

Since 1934, silencers have been regulated under the National Firearms Act (NFA).1 The NFA requires that transferees of silencers submit fingerprints and a photograph, pay a special tax, and undergo a background check. It also requires a “Chief Law Enforcement Officer” or CLEO to sign a statement confirming that a certifying official is satisfied that the fingerprints and photograph accompanying the application are those of the applicant and that the certifying official has no information indicating that possession of the silencer by the applicant would be in violation of state or local law. In January 2016, however, the Obama administration finalized a new rule that eliminates the CLEO sign-off requirement and replaces it with a requirement that local law enforcement need only be notified of the transfer of a silencer. The rule is awaiting final implementation.

Hiram Percy Maxim is credited with patenting the first silencer in 1908. But a short time later their utility in crime was demonstrated in a tragic murder-suicide on Central Park West in New York City in 1915.

In the decades that followed, silencers were used by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II for clandestine missions. Silenced handguns were also used in Vietnam for multiple purposes. According to a Former Special Forces NCO, military units used suppressed pistols “for all sorts of sneaky ops, from dumping guards to out and out assassinations.”2

In 1967, a new generation of silencers was developed by Mitch WerBell for Sionics, a company that specialized in counterinsurgency equipment. The acronym Sionics stood for Studies in Operational Negation of Insurgency and Counter Subversion. The company supplied silencers and similar items for covert operations by military and “CIA-type” clandestine organizations.3 These next-generation silencers were more efficient than their turn-of-the-century predecessors and could effectively be used on battle rifles and Carbines. Today’s military silencers are used by special operations units to reduce noise and muzzle flash.

 

1 Examples of the types of firearms that must be registered under the National Firearms Act [26 U.S.C. §5845] include: machine guns; the frames or receivers of machine guns; any combination of parts designed and intended for use in converting weapons into machine guns; any part designed and intended solely and exclusively for converting a weapon into a machine gun; silencers and any part designed and intended for fabricating a silencer; short-barreled rifles; and, short-barreled shotguns. Also included are “destructive devices.” These include Molotov cocktails, anti-tank guns (over 50 caliber), bazookas, and mortars. “Any other weapon,” which includes cane guns and other gadget-type firearms, such as “pen” guns, which fire a projectile by the action of an explosive are also regulated under the NFA.

2 “The Ruger/MAC MKI: Vietnam’s Silent Service,” Small Arms Review, May 2005, accessed October 30, 2015 from https://www.smallarmsreview.com/display.article.cfm?idarticles=1873.

3 “Sionics Incorporated,” Small Arms Review, November 2011, accessed October 27, 2015 from https://www.smallarmsreview.com/display.articlecfm?idarticles=230. For more detail on Sionics and the use of silencers in Vietnam, see “Silencers: the NRA’s latest big lie,” Salon, December 30, 2012.

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This OpEd appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune January 7, 2017

Written by Nancy F. Halden, GVPC Board Chair

Gun Lobby Traffics In Fear To Sell More Guns

A recent letter to the editor, claiming that gun control is a “sham and a waste of time” incorporates some of the popular misconceptions about guns and gun-control laws. First, the Second Amendment rights of individuals are not open-ended.  In fact, they are generally limited to the right to own a gun for self-protection in one’s home.  The notion that the Second Amendment proscribes the adoption of reasonable controls on possession and use of firearms is a fiction perpetuated by the gun lobby to keep the public fearful that someone is “coming for their guns.”  Yet, how many guns have been confiscated from law-abiding citizens in the eight years of the Obama presidency? Zero.

What has happened is that the gun industry and gun lobby have successfully appealed to many citizens’ sense of fear—fear that has fueled the largest increase in the sale of guns and ammunition in the gun industry’s history. According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the number of firearms manufactured annually in the U.S. has more than doubled in the last eight years. A 1994 survey showed that gun owners primarily bought guns for recreation and hunting. A similar 2016 survey showed that Americans now buy guns out of fear. Fear sells guns—lots of guns—and it feeds the gun-industry’s lust for more sales and profits, while adding to the American death toll.

The truth that the gun lobby and gun industry do not want you to know is that you are not statistically safer with a gun. A gun is much more likely to be used in a suicide, domestic violence assault or unintentional shooting, or to be stolen and used in a violent crime than it is to be used to protect family and property.  Further, a home that has a gun is much more likely to be the scene of homicide or serious accident than is a home without guns. It is startling that more Utahns now die from guns than from car accidents.

Suicide rates have steadily increased over the past 15 years, especially in Utah. Means matter. Guns are responsible for more than half of all suicide deaths, and states—like Utah—with higher gun ownership have higher suicide rates. According to a study in the American Journal of Public Health, domestic-violence victims are five times more likely to be killed if their abuser has access to a gun. These incidents also often claim the lives of intervening police officers. Another report in Accident Analysis and Prevention shows that states with the highest percentage of guns in the home had nine times the rate of unintentional firearm deaths compared to states with the lowest gun levels. Many of these incidents involve children unintentionally shooting family members. Not only is this devastating for the loss of life, but also for the emotional toll it takes on surviving family members.

As for the recent Ohio State University stabbings, no one was killed.  Had the assailant used a firearm, the result would surely have been more tragic.  Most survivors of active assault situations will tell you that they would not have been safer carrying a firearm. Open-carry enthusiasts in Dallas actually hampered police efforts to identify and disarm a sniper.

Easy access to firearms has made our country less safe for all of us. How to reduce the tragedies of gun violence?  States that have enacted sensible gun laws, such as more rigorous background checks, longer waiting periods, safe storage and gun-proficiency requirements, have fewer gun deaths and injuries. Common-sense gun legislation does not infringe on the rights of responsible citizens and would save many American lives.

This OpEd appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune July 30, 2016

Written by Elizabeth Love, GVPC Intern

To Understand Race and Gun Violence, Utahns Need to See People, Not Stats

A few weeks ago, a 16-year-old Hispanic boy, who is my age and attended my high school, was killed in a west Salt Lake City drive-by shooting after a family barbecue. A few local news outlets reported the incident, his family set up a Go Fund Me, people who knew him grieved and those who didn't went on with their lives.

I began to wonder what the reaction would have been had the same incident happened to a white boy in an east side neighborhood. I can't imagine anything less than mass hysteria. If it were to happen regularly, Sens. Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch perhaps would find it in themselves to support gun control or risk being voted out of office.

But right now, our senators don't have to support gun control. Could it be because their voter bloc is spared from gun violence? Utah is very white demographically, and the brunt of gun violence is suffered by minorities. When Lee appears on Fox News and claims the problem is terrorism, not gun violence, it may be easy for us to believe. The 88 Americans killed each day by gun violence in America are invisible to us. Their stories aren't slapped across the front page like when there is a mass shooting or terror attack. We're not told about the families they're leaving behind. Sometimes we're told nothing at all. Even gun control champions like Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy and California Sen. Diane Feinstein rarely try to push gun control bills through Congress in reaction to anything other than mass shootings. We hear so little about all other types of gun violence that gun violence and terrorism almost feel the same.

The numbers, of course, tell a different story. Gun violence takes far more American lives than terrorism, the two aren't even comparable. So why aren't we bombarded with stories about each and every shooting in the same way we're bombarded with stories about terrorism? Could it be that our race issues and our gun issues aren't mutually exclusive?

Maybe gun violence is just another side of us seeing minority lives as somehow less than our own. I have a hard time believing that if the leading cause of death for white males aged 18-34 was firearm homicide, like it is for black males, that we wouldn't do anything about it. So why do we let that happen to our minority population?

Is racism in our country still so explicit that we see minority lives as the collateral damage to our weak gun laws? I'd like to hope not. I'd like to hope that it comes from a lack of knowledge and experience, that if we or our senators lived the gun violence, if we saw the 88 lives lost per day as people not numbers, that we would have more humanity, regardless of skin color.

Maybe if we heard their stories like we do after high profile attacks, things would be different. If every person shot and killed wasn't just described as a gender, age and race, but as man about to be married, a daughter who had just graduated or a mother with kids grieving her. Maybe then the feelings of grief and outrage could be transported across town just as they are across oceans after terror attacks. Maybe if we just reported on every shooting victim as if they were white and in a rich neighborhood, maybe then things would change.

A recent letter to the editor, claiming that gun control is a “sham and a waste of time” incorporates some of the popular misconceptions about guns and gun-control laws. First, the Second Amendment rights of individuals are not open-ended.  In fact, they are generally limited to the right to own a gun for self-protection in one’s home.  The notion that the Second Amendment proscribes the adoption of reasonable controls on possession and use of firearms is a fiction perpetuated by the gun lobby to keep the public fearful that someone is “coming for their guns.”  Yet, how many guns have been confiscated from law-abiding citizens in the eight years of the Obama presidency? Zero.

What has happened is that the gun industry and gun lobby have successfully appealed to many citizens’ sense of fear—fear that has fueled the largest increase in the sale of guns and ammunition in the gun industry’s history. According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the number of firearms manufactured annually in the U.S. has more than doubled in the last eight years. A 1994 survey showed that gun owners primarily bought guns for recreation and hunting. A similar 2016 survey showed that Americans now buy guns out of fear. Fear sells guns—lots of guns—and it feeds the gun-industry’s lust for more sales and profits, while adding to the American death toll.

The truth that the gun lobby and gun industry do not want you to know is that you are not statistically safer with a gun. A gun is much more likely to be used in a suicide, domestic violence assault or unintentional shooting, or to be stolen and used in a violent crime than it is to be used to protect family and property.  Further, a home that has a gun is much more likely to be the scene of homicide or serious accident than is a home without guns. It is startling that more Utahns now die from guns than from car accidents.

Suicide rates have steadily increased over the past 15 years, especially in Utah. Means matter. Guns are responsible for more than half of all suicide deaths, and states—like Utah—with higher gun ownership have higher suicide rates. According to a study in the American Journal of Public Health, domestic-violence victims are five times more likely to be killed if their abuser has access to a gun. These incidents also often claim the lives of intervening police officers. Another report in Accident Analysis and Prevention shows that states with the highest percentage of guns in the home had nine times the rate of unintentional firearm deaths compared to states with the lowest gun levels. Many of these incidents involve children unintentionally shooting family members. Not only is this devastating for the loss of life, but also for the emotional toll it takes on surviving family members.

As for the recent Ohio State University stabbings, no one was killed.  Had the assailant used a firearm, the result would surely have been more tragic.  Most survivors of active assault situations will tell you that they would not have been safer carrying a firearm. Open-carry enthusiasts in Dallas actually hampered police efforts to identify and disarm a sniper.

Easy access to firearms has made our country less safe for all of us. How to reduce the tragedies of gun violence?  States that have enacted sensible gun laws, such as more rigorous background checks, longer waiting periods, safe storage and gun-proficiency requirements, have fewer gun deaths and injuries. Common-sense gun legislation does not infringe on the rights of responsible citizens and would save many American lives.

This was broadcast on NPR All Things Considered November 15, 2016

Nathan Rott and Luke Vander PLOEG. NPR

Following Election, NRA Goes On 'Offense'; Here's What It Could Aim To Do

"Our time is now." That's the message from Wayne LaPierre, the head of the National Rifle Association, to his group's members and gun owners across America, following last week's election.

With a Republican-held Congress and Donald Trump headed to the White House — helped, in no small part, by the support of the NRA — big changes could be coming to the nation's gun laws.

At an NRA-sponsored event Monday, in the desert north of Phoenix, more than 1,000 gun owners and enthusiasts gathered for a so-called 1000 Man Shoot. Men and women from 16 states lined up shoulder to shoulder to fire 1,000 Henry Golden Boy Silver rifles simultaneously. They fired two rounds at a long row of targets. In the cheers after the second, a shooting safety officer in a lime green shirt and red hat said: "Can you hear us now, Hillary?"

"We made history last week," Pete Brownell, the first vice president of the NRA, told the crowd. "And I have to tell you it feels great to be on offense again."

Brownell and other gun rights advocates say that they've had to be on defense for the past eight years under the Obama administration.

"We've always had to be looking out for how our rights are going to be taken away from us as individuals; how our constitutional rights are going to be impinged upon," Brownell says. "Now, the ball's going to be in our court."

There are a number of laws that the NRA and gun enthusiasts would like to see change under the Trump administration. We've listed some of those laws below and asked Adam Winkler, a constitutional law professor at the UCLA School of Law and author of Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America, what the chances are for each proposal.

We should note that this is not a comprehensive list. And if you're wondering why it's not longer, Winkler says, "It's because the NRA has been so successful over the last 40 years in American politics that it's already accomplished almost everything on the list of its agenda items."

1. National reciprocity for concealed-carry permits

This is the biggest-ticket item for the NRA and it's the most likely to happen. Trump, a concealed-carry-permit holder, has said that concealed carry "is a right, not a privilege," and that a permit should be valid in all 50 states, similar to a driver's license.

That's what national reciprocity would do — it would give a concealed-carry-permit holder in a state such as Texas the right to carry a gun in a state such as New York, regardless of New York's concealed-carry laws. There are two versions of this law that have already been proposed in Congress, the broader of which would allow a person to get a concealed-carry permit outside his state of residence.

"That's the more controversial version of national reciprocity," Winkler says. "I'm not sure that's the one we'll get, but the NRA is most likely going to push for the broadest version of national reciprocity."

Winkler believes that some version is likely to pass, but he says that Democrats could filibuster. He also notes that some Republicans could withhold support from national reciprocity because of states' rights.

"If you believe in any local autonomy, as Republicans claim to, then the broad version of reciprocity undermines that significantly," Winkler says. "Because a state or city like Los Angeles would no longer be able to control who carries guns in public."

2. An end to gun-free military zones

At a rally in January, Trump said, "My first day, there's no more gun-free zones." He was talking about schools and military bases. He later clarified his position on schools, saying that school resource officers or teachers should be allowed to carry them. He has not publicly changed his opinion on military bases.

Currently, most gun owners on military bases must register their firearm and store it in an armory while on base. The only people who can carry guns while on a military base are on-duty military, state or local police.

There have been pushes by the NRA and Republican lawmakers to allow more military personnel to carry firearms on base, following mass shootings at Fort Hood in 2009 and the Washington, D.C., Navy Yard in 2013, but the Department of Defense has not changed its position. Under Trump, it might.

"This is very easy," Winkler says. "Allowing carrying of firearms on military bases is something that the president will probably be able to do through executive order. I believe that [Trump] will."

3. Removing suppressors from the National Firearms Act

Gun owners can already use suppressors — or silencers — in most states, but gun rights groups say that the process to get one is onerous. Suppressors are regulated under the National Firearms Act, which was originally enacted in 1934 following the St. Valentine's Day Massacre to tax the making and transfer of certain firearms. The underlying purpose of the act, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, was to "curtail, if not prohibit, transactions in NFA firearms."

Gun rights advocates and shooters have long argued that suppressors should not be regulated by the NFA and have made a public health argument for their use: Guns are loud. "Everybody that you know that's an old shooter is deaf," says Michelle Camp, the leader of the Utah chapter of The Well-Armed Woman. "To have the ability to get [suppressors] easier would be really helpful."

Winkler says it would take legislative action to get suppressors off the NFA list and that a piece of legislation already exists: the Hearing Protection Act of 2015, proposed in the House of Representatives. Winkler says he doesn't expect it to be a priority for Congress, but "if the NRA decides to get behind silencer legislation, I think it will pass," he says. Hours after Trump won last week's election, the NRA dropped this tweet:

4. Revamping federal background check process

Nobody is entirely happy with the federal government's current background check process or its database, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Gun control groups argue that there are too many loopholes in it, and many gun rights groups concur — a rare show of agreement — though not in the details.

The system is supposed to prevent a felon or someone who is mentally ill from purchasing a gun, but it has obstacles like underfunding and inaccurate, out-of-date data. Gun control groups would like to see things in the current system fixed, including the straw purchasing loophole. Gun rights groups say they'd like to find ways to get the system better data to work with.

During his campaign, Trump said that he was against expanding background checks and that the current system needs to be fixed.

"Unfortunately, I feel the efforts to 'fix' the background check system will be really efforts to gut the background check system," Winkler says. "To make it less effective, less streamlined, and make it harder for prosecutors to find gun criminals. That's been the NRA's practice with regard to background checks in the past."

Nancy Halden OpEd page, Salt Lake Tribune, March 25, 2017: Concealed Carry Reci­procity Act of 2017 (H.R. 38)

Violence Policy Center, February 2016: Silencers: A Threat to Public Safety

Nancy Halden OpEd page, Salt Lake Tribune, January 7, 2017:  Gun Lobby Traffics In Fear To Sell More Guns

Elizabeth Love OpEd page, Salt Lake Tribune, July 30, 2016:  To Understand Race and Gun Violence, Utahns Need to See People, Not Stats

Nathan Rott and Luke Vander, NPR All Things Considered, November 15, 2016: Following Election, NRA Goes On 'Offense'; Here's What It Could Aim To Do

States United to Prevent Gun Violence, CeaseFireUSA.org, January 5, 2017: Toys - PSA to Prevent Unintentional Child Shootings