Silencers muffle gun noise but not the debate over guns

More than 32,000 gun silencers were registered to New Hampshire residents as of last year — more than a tenfold increase from seven years earlier.

“I’m surprised” there’s so many, said Bill Lauze, who sells a dozen or fewer silencers a year from his Whitefield gun business, SAWS Manufacturing. “They’ve definitely gained in popularity over the last 10 years.”

Silencers hit the news after it was disclosed that a gunman blamed for killing a dozen people in Virginia Beach, Va., about a week ago used one to help muffle shots from a .45-caliber handgun.

“They have a sinister reputation because mobsters used them,” said Fish and Game Col. Kevin Jordan.

Silencers — which muffle but don’t silence the sound of a fired weapon — are legal in 42 states, including New Hampshire.

Three years ago, the Granite State legalized them for use in hunting, repealing a 1947 law.

Land owners at the time said they were worried about being out on their property and not hearing hunters firing their weapons. Jordan’s department also was concerned about animal poaching at night, he said.

“Some of our initial concerns haven’t borne out,” Jordan said. “We haven’t seen a giant increase in the use of them because they’re pretty restricted by the federal government.”

Tightly regulated

To buy a silencer legally, a person must provide the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives with a photo and fingerprints, pay a $200 transfer tax, pass a background check and register the silencer with the federal government.

“There’s no backdoor loopholes,” Lauze said. “Every single individual has to get fingerprinted and a background check. You can’t share it. You can’t let other people borrow it. It’s tightly regulated.”

Lauze said there’s about a 10-month waiting period for approvals.

Silencers can be attached to rifles or handguns.

He said silencers for rifles can run $800 to $1,200 while a good one for a .22-caliber handgun can cost around $400.

Silencers in NH

According to ATF, New Hampshire had 32,093 registered silencers as of February 2018, ranking it 18th nationally despite being 41st in population. In December 2010, the Granite State had 2,293 registered.

Nationally, the number of silencers roughly quadrupled during that period.

Lauze said there was a push by a pro-gun group around 2013 to weaken the federal law, and he surmised that might have fueled sales.

“I think there was a lot of hope they would become more mainstream and wouldn’t be as much of a wait and would get your tax money back,” Lauze said.

Josh D’Agnese, co-owner of the Village Gun Store in Whitefield, said silencers make a gun easier to shoot and allow gun owners to shoot in their yards without aggravating neighbors.

“You don’t have to worry about ear plugs or upsetting people as noise travels,” he said.

How much the use of a silencer will push the national debate over gun rights is unclear.

President Donald Trump was quoted as saying, “I don’t like them at all.”

Bow resident Tracy Hahn-Burkett is convener of the working group on gun-violence prevention for the Kent Street Coalition, a grassroots organization founded in Concord.

“I’m not going to suddenly change how I think about the gun-violence prevention because this particular person used a silencer,” said Hahn-Burkett.

“To the extent we’re spending time talking about silencers, we’re missing the big picture,” she said.

“The big picture is to look at what’s going on in this country that we have almost 40,000 people a year dying via gun violence, and that’s so far surpassing any developed country,” she said, adding that other countries also are dealing with people who have mental health issues and who play violent video game.

“Ultimately, we need to get weapons and magazines that have no legitimate civilian purpose off the street,” she said.

Worst-case scenario

The May 31 shooting in Virginia Beach “by an attacker using a silencer to aid in his assault is the worst-case scenario that we have feared,” said David Chipman, senior policy adviser at Giffords: Courage to Fight Gun Violence, a group led by former Congressman Gabby Giffords, who was seriously injured in a 2011 shooting in Tucson, Ariz., that killed six and left about a dozen injured.

“Those who market silencers as simply a form of hearing protection fail to acknowledge the threat of a silencer in the wrong hands,” Chipman said in an email. “Silencers contribute to the chaos in an active shooting by masking and distorting the recognizable sound of a firearm and cost victims time recognizing they are under attack by minutes when seconds could mean the difference between life and death.”

Said D’Agnese: “If you don’t want ’em, go back to England.”

Wednesday, December 11, 2019