Republican lawmakers want to loosen restrictions on gun silencers. The lawmakers say the devices are useful because they keep shooters from blowing out their eardrums.
Gun control advocates see them as dangerous weapons that can be exploited by criminals.
A silencer is displayed at Ed’s Public Safety gun shop in Stockbridge, Ga. For decades, buying a silencer has been as difficult as buying a machine gun. Now, the industry has renewed a push in Congress to ease those restrictions.
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Identical bills, each called the Hearing Protection Act of 2017, have been introduced in the U.S. House and Senate. If they pass, silencers will no longer require extra layers of gun control that have been in place for more than 80 years.
It would be great news for the silencer industry, which boomed in recent years but appears to have slowed in recent months.
“The return on that would be huge,” said Philip Sansotta, the online marketing manager for Gemtech, an Idaho company that has made silencers since the 1970s. Idaho is the home state of Republican Mike Crapo, a sponsor of the Senate bill.
Gemtech and SilencerCo, a leading silencer company based in Utah, displayed their wares recently at the SHOT Show, the annual gun industry exhibition in Las Vegas. Reporters were invited to a windswept desert range to use SilencerCo’s Salvo 12, the world's first silencer for a shotgun, and the Maxim 9, a pistol-silencer combo.
Silencers, also known as suppressors, are canister-shaped mufflers attached to the ends of gun barrels to dampen the noise of gunshots.
They sound louder in real life than they do on, say, The Walking Dead, where they’re used to quiet gunshots to avoid alerting marauding zombies. Real silencers sound more like a car door slamming, but they’re still quieter than the loud crack of unsilenced guns.
Jason Schauble, chief revenue officer at SilencerCo and a Marine veteran who was in Iraq, said his company sold 120,000 silencers last year, up from 35,000 in 2013. Revenue grew 600 percent in the same time. The silencers cost $323 to $1,200, depending on the type of gun and caliber.
More than 330,000 silencers were registered nationwide in the two years ending in February, 2016, according to the federal government. That amounts to about a third of all silencers registered since 1934, when the National Firearms Act was implemented.
Silencer sales surged in tandem with gun sales under President Barack Obama, who tried and failed to get gun control measures passed, and with Hillary Clinton running to succeed him. Under President Trump, though, the threat of tougher federal gun laws has vanished. Gun sales have dropped dramatically.
Knox Williams, president of the American Suppressor Association, an industry group, said customers are waiting for looser restrictions rather than paying the $200 tax required under current law and submitting to a months-long background check “for what is effectively a muffler.”
Still, industry officials say the bill is not a priority in Congress and might not pass until 2018 or 2019.