Sunday, April 17, 2011

Silence is Golden

Contrary to popular belief, in most states in this country it is perfectly legal to own a “silencer”, more correctly known as a sound suppressor, for a firearm.  It can be a time consuming pain in the butt, but it’s not a crime.

Since 1934 sound suppressors have been part of the Title II registry, along with fully automatic weapons, short-barreled rifles and shotguns, and strange firearms known as “Any Other Weapons”.  The guns for sale at your local gun store or sporting goods store are Title 1 weapons.

A Title II device requires the payment of a $200 transfer tax and registration with the BATFE each time it passes from one private party to another.  In 1934, $200 was an outrageous sum to add to the price of a $10 Maxim suppressor or a $5 Sears, Roebuck shotgun.  The obvious intent of the tax was to provide a de facto ban on the devices.  The process of applying for and receiving the tax stamp always takes several weeks and can take months. 

According to firearms history, suppressors were placed on the Title II registry during the Great Depression to prevent starving people from hunting game illegally.  Maybe so, but that logic no longer applies these days.  In some areas of this country deer and wild pigs are a menace to both people and conservation efforts.  We NEED to shoot more of them to bring the populations back down to sustainable levels.

In Scandinavia it is considered rude to hunt without a suppressor.  The muzzle blast from the rifle scares all of the game in the area and causes them to flee from the sound.  It also disturbs other people in the area.

Law enforcement is recognizing the value of suppressors when shots are fired in enclosed areas, such as room in a house.  If you discharge a centerfire weapon in an enclosed area, especially a rifle, you can expect to have permanent hearing loss afterwards.  Hearing loss is a common cause of medical retirement for law enforcement.

Contrary to Hollywood myth, it is difficult to completely silence a firearm.  It is impossible to silence a firearm that fires a bullet faster than about 1,150 feet per second, which includes almost all rifles and magnum handguns.  The sonic crack of the bullet in flight creates a very loud noise that is unaffected by the suppressor.    

A suppressor works on the same principle as a car’s muffler with much the same results.  A car running without a muffler is obnoxiously loud.  A car running with a muffler can still be heard but is not loud enough to cause distress.  Sound suppressors for firearms work exactly the same way.  You can almost always hear the gun being fired but the suppressed gun is much easier on the ears.

Between 1934 and 1968 any adult could walk into a hardware store and buy a handgun or a long-arm without any paperwork other than the sales receipt.  No federal paperwork or background checks were required.  These days, anyone selling firearms for retail must be licensed by the BATFE and must maintain a permanent log book of every sale.  Federal law also requires an electronic criminal background check on every sale.  Some states exempt buyers with concealed weapon licenses on the grounds that those individuals already have to pass criminal background checks.

I am proposing here that suppressors be moved to the Title 1 registry.  Each suppressor is already individually serial-numbered, just like a gun.  The same laws currently applied to gun sales can easily be applied to suppressors, allowing the law-abiding to buy a firearm safety device without having to pay a ridiculous tax and jump through bureaucratic hoops.  It makes sense both from a legal perspective and a safety perspective.  More suppressors equals less noise.

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