Now that a bill which removes gun silencers from the list of weapons that are strictly regulated by the National Firearms Act of 1934 has cleared a House Committee by a party-line vote, both sides in the gun debate are gearing up for what will no doubt be a contentious and loud debate when the bill gets to the House floor. It should come as no surprise that most of the truth-stretching about silencers is coming from the pro-gun side, because they have a lot more to gain if silencers are dropped from the NFA list. Anyone can go to Amazon, for example, and purchase a light or a laser which fits on a gun; this would be the case with silencers as well.
Our friends at The Trace tell us that since 2010, the number of NFA-registered silencers has increased from 285,087 to 902,805, a serious problem if you believe that silencers can somehow be linked to the rate of gun violence which during the same five-year period has not gone down but is actually trending somewhat up. But like everything else in the gun business, using national data to understand how, why and where people own and use anything having to do with guns hides important local and regional differences which need to be explained and understood.
Back in 2010, there were an average of 5,700 silencers registered in each of the 50 states, but seven states (AZ, FL, GA, IN, PA, TX, VA) were the location of 47% of all registered silencers at that time. At the beginning of 2016, the per-state average had increased to 18,056, but these 7 states alone still accounted for nearly 44% of all registered silencers owned. Last year these same seven states issued 3,677,143 hunting licenses, which was 23% of hunting licenses issued by the 50 states. The state which issued the most licenses, Texas, sold 1,132,099, or 7% of the national total. But Texans own 18% of all the registered silencers in the U.S., and the number of silencers in the 7 silencer-rich states represent twice the percentage of all silencers than the percentage of hunting licenses issued by these same states.
Wait a minute. I thought the whole point of owning a silencer was to use it when you go out into the woods to take a crack at Bambi, right? If that’s the case, how come silencers outpace hunting licenses by a margin of two to one?
What seems to be lost in the silencer debate, and the anti-silencer contingent seems to ignore this issue as well, is that in order to put a silencer on a gun you have to replace the standard barrel with a threaded barrel or the silencer simply won’t work. And while some of the silencer companies have started selling threaded gun barrels in addition to the silencers themselves, unless the gun you want to silence is of modular design, which happens to be only about 10% of all current handgun models along with variations of the AR-15, buying a silencer means buying another gun. This is particularly true when it comes to standard bolt-action or semi-auto hunting rifles because the barrel in most cases is welded to the receiver, so you can’t just pop out one barrel and pop in another the way you might do it with a Glock. When was the last time that someone went hunting deer or high-flyers with a Glock?
The bottom line is that the argument for silencers based on the idea that they are nothing more than a new accessory for hunters is simply not true. And the folks who are trying to prevent the gun industry from turning silencers into a product that is no different from a flashlight should be pointing this out. You can certainly find a story here and there about how a gun with a silencer was involved in this crime or that, but the threat represented by silencers is a tiny drop in the bucket compared to the crimes and injuries caused by guns.