More Silencers Will Make Gun Violence More Likely

This OpEd appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune July 8, 2017

Written by Linda K. Newell, GVPC Board Member

A gun bill that rescinds a critical gun safety law, but has nothing to do with gun ownership, is before this session of Congress. The Hearing Protection Act of 2017 (HR 367), would deregulate gun silencers.

Silencers are regulated for good reason. They suppress the sound of gunfire, muzzle the flash and make a weapon more accurate. They enable a shooter to communicate with an accomplice and fire more rounds before detection. Many cities now have "shot spotters" that immediately alert law enforcement when a weapon has been fired, and that pinpoint the position of the shooter, allowing for a faster response time. Silencers render this technology useless.

Silencers are strictly regulated for one reason only: the safety of American citizens and the law enforcement officers who protect them.

There are many hearing protectors on the market, which take only a few seconds to place over the ears — or in the ears, in the case of earplugs. These devices work well. If gun owners feel they are burdensome, consider who bears the burden when silencers are available to anyone.

To the gun industry, accessories like silencers are profit areas. Public safety is not an issue. Josh Sugarmann, executive director of the Violence Policy Center, calls this profit "blood money." The NRA claims it protects the "freedom'" of individual gun owners. It actually protects the freedom of the gun industry to sell virtually any weapon or accessory.

It estimates that deregulating silencers would open the market to 1.3 million new customers. How many more deaths will occur when silencers are on the streets and in the hands of youth gangs and other criminals, as they surely will be?

Joshua Waldron, founder of SilencerCo in Utah, claims that those who oppose deregulation are "people who wouldn't know a trigger from a muzzle." The victims of gun violence certainly know what comes out of a muzzle when the trigger is pulled. In the United States, 11,600 people are murdered with guns each year. Another 60,000 are shot in an attack and survive. All of them have families and friends whose lives are torn asunder. Taking the life of another human being is a moral issue. Gun violence is a moral issue, one that has certainly been politicized but is, nevertheless, a moral issue.

Advocates argue that silencers are rarely used in criminal shootings. There is a reason for this: Most criminals are prevented by law from purchasing them. The law requires a statement by a local chief law enforcement officer certifying that the applicant is in compliance with state and local laws and that the fingerprints and photograph accompanying the application are those of the applicant. The application is then submitted to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms for an extensive background check, which can take up to nine months, and is subject to $200 fee to help defray that cost. When silencers are deregulated, there are no safety checks, including for those who cannot pass a background check.

All four of Utah's congressional representatives are co-sponsors of this bill. Sen. Orrin Hatch is poised to sponsor a similar bill in the Senate, which Sen. Mike Lee supports. These elected officials are strong proponents of states passing legislation that best fits their constituents and local situations. HR 367 pre-empts any state or local laws that tax or regulate firearm silencers. So much for states' rights.

Before we have more bloodshed, we need to petition those elected to represent us in Washington to stop this bill and to adhere to the principle that killing is immoral and enacting laws that make killing easier is immoral.

Linda K. Newell, a writer from Salt Lake City, serves on the board of The Gun Violence Prevention Center.