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.


Voices of Reason Podcast 10/6/17

Amy Donaldson and Jasen Lee will discuss guns in society with Utah guns rights advocate and lobbyist Clark Aposhian and Ed Rutan, board member with the Gun Violence Prevention Center of Utah.  They will be debating the issues of guns and gun rights in society. Follow this link



H.R. 367/S. 59, the Hearing Protection Act of 2017 eliminates silencers from the requirements of the National Firearms Act. This legislation would make it easier for criminals to obtain these deadly weapons, escalating gun violence in American communities and allowing dangerous individuals to elude law enforcement. S. 733 - A bipartisan effort recently buried this legislation in the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement (SHARE) Act in an effort to push it through unnoticed by the public.

Regulation of silencers under the National Firearms Act has worked for decades. Since the 1930s, Americans have been able to legally obtain silencers through the ATF after undergoing a thorough background check process and registering the silencer with federal law enforcement. As a result of these protections, silencers are rarely used in crime. Deregulating silencers would remove these safeguards, making it easy for individuals unable to pass a background check to obtain these dangerous weapons through unregulated private sales on the internet and at gun shows—and to use them in violent crime.

Silencers mask the sound of a gun being fired. Effective regulation has made silencers extremely difficult for criminals to obtain, but when they have, the results are devastating. Past criminal use of silencers has resulted in assassination-style murders where first responders cannot quickly identify the source of gunfire. In February 2013 Christopher Dorner targeted four law enforcement officers in what the Police Foundation described as a bizarre act of vengeance—a “gang-style hit” on individuals while sitting in a car. Police were initially puzzled as to why no neighbors heard the 14 shots: it was because Dorner used a silencer.

Proliferation of silencers would increase the threat to law enforcement by active shooter incidents by masking the location of the gunman. In the July 2016 mass shooting in Dallas, the sound of gunfire was critical to locating the shooter and limiting casualties. Once silencers are readily available to anyone, the effectiveness of gunshot detection systems that rely on sound, such as ShotSpotter, used by police in ~100 cities nationwide would diminish. These systems alert police to illegal gunfire, enabling officers to respond quickly to gun crime - even before a call is made.

Current U.S. law limits the danger posed by silencers without European-style regulations on guns. Proponents of this bill have cited Europe’s lack of regulation regarding silencers—yet European laws highly regulate guns, requiring most gun owners to be licensed and for their guns to be registered, ensuring that only the most responsible individuals can obtain firearms. This is not the case in the United States—and is thus an invalid comparison.

The claim that silencers protect hearing is bogus. If silencers truly enhanced the health of gun owners, they would have been issued to every member of law enforcement and member of the military—and they have not. The sole purpose to deregulate silencers is to increase the profits of the gun industry at the expense of public safety. Silencers are prohibitively expensive. Adequate ear protection muffs range from $25-$50.  Silencers cost $100-$2,500. Retrofitting the gun to take a silencer by a gunsmith will also cost a significant amount.  When you add in the $200 tax on silencers from the 1934 Firearms Act, this means that a silencer can be as much as a mortgage payment. Utah Representatives have cited the fact that one of the silencer manufacturers (SilencerCo) is here in Utah as their reason for supporting the legislation.

HR 367 Hearing Protection Act now has 159 co-sponsors, enough to pass the House –including all 4 of Utah’s Representatives (Chaffetz, Love, Bishop and Stewart). Please call your Representative and tell them you oppose any deregulation of silencers, including S 733 the Sportsmen’s Heritage And Recreation Enhancement (SHARE) Act.

Rep Bishop – (202)225- 0453 or (801) 625-0107   (UT-District 1)

Rep Love - (202) 225-3011 or (801) 996-8729      (UT-District 2)

Rep Stewart – (202) 225-9730 or (801) 364-5550    (UT-District 4)

S 59 Senate version of Hearing Protection Act has 18 co-sponsors including Utah’s Sen. Lee. Please call your Senators and tell them you oppose any deregulation of silencers. Let them know you won’t be fooled by burying the deregulation of Silencers in S 733, the SHARE Act!

Sen. Mike Lee - (801)524-5933 or (202) 224-5444

Sen. Orrin Hatch – (801)524-4380 or (801)375-7881 or (202)224-5251

If you are in District 3, (Chaffetz’ District) please call all the candidates and ask them where they stand on the deregulation of Silencers. Tell them you want a Representative who chooses public safety over the profits of the gun industry.

Candidates for (UT District 3 - Chaffetz’ District):

John Curtis (R) 801.852.6108 (Mayor’s Office Provo)

Dr. Kathie Allen (D) 801-413-7786

Jim Bennett (UU) 385.325.1620 (United Utah Party)

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