Can It! June 3, 2006Posted by federalist in Government Regulation, RKBA.
If you invented a device that could make any firearm both safer and more accurate, you’d probably expect to win praise from both sides of the political spectrum, and make a fortune in the process. You might even expect the federal government to pass regulations requiring such a safety device for all firearms and making it difficult or illegal to operate a firearm without one. You would be wrong.
I’m talking here about suppressors, also known as “silencers” or “cans.” These are devices that sit at the end of a firearm barrel to absorb the rapidly expanding gasses that propel a bullet. The most popular design consists of enclosed baffles – basically like a car muffler, but for your gun.
Suppressors are widely manufactured for all sorts of firearms. Some are built into the gun, while many others are light alloy devices that either thread or clamp on to the end of the barrel. Top manufacturers claim that their suppressors consistently increase the muzzle velocity and accuracy of a gun. How is that possible? The devices effectively extend the barrel length, giving the propellants extra time to accelerate the bullet. And the flat end of a suppressor can increase accuracy because it is like having a perfectly crowned muzzle.
Of course, the most well known effect of suppressors is to help “silence” the explosion of burning propellant, allowing firearms to be comfortably discharged without hearing protection and in enclosed spaces. And this seems to be the sticking point.
Suppressors are regulated as heavily as grenade launchers and machine guns. Why? It can be argued that the latter have risks that far outweigh their possible benefits to private citizens. But suppressors only make guns quieter. And bulkier: A criminal who wants a quiet shot would probably opt instead to just shoot through a heavy coat to silence his gun. I suppose we could always bring a stack of pillows to the range, but what does shooting through goose down do to your target groups?
Under the National Firearms Act (NFA) suppressors are “Title II weapons.” As such, the federal government levies a $200 tax on each sale to a private citizen. This is in addition to an indefinite waiting period for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms to conduct an extended background investigation of the purchaser, for each and every purchase! Additionally, some states restrict any citizen from owning or possessing Title II devices, again failing to make any distinction between a suppressor and a machinegun.
But it’s not hard to imagine a world in which every firearm was required to be sold not only with a trigger lock, but also with a suppressor. After all, without them firearms can permanently damage the hearing of operators or bystanders. Frankly we should be alarmed that our law enforcement agencies routinely equip officers and agents with unsuppressed firearms. Are we needlessly risking collateral hearing damage just to save money?
Think of the opportunities that would open up if silencers were unrestricted. Shooting ranges that are in constant zoning battles with their neighbors could simply mark all their outdoor ranges “Suppressed shooting only.” City-dwellers would be able to practice shooting sports without having to make a daytrip to the country. Shooters in indoor ranges would be subject to much lower levels not only of noise but also of the toxic particles ejected and kicked up by the muzzle blast of an unsuppressed gun.
Are quiet guns too dangerous? Consider a close cousin of the suppressor: the engine muffler. More than 5000 pedestrians are killed each year in this country by vehicles equipped with mufflers. Surely some of these pedestrians would have been able to escape the path of the vehicle that ran them down if its engine had been louder. But the possession and use of engine mufflers on road vehicles is not regulated by any government entity. In fact, you can’t buy a car with a straight-pipe exhaust, even though it enhances performance and is arguably safer.
In contrast, adding a suppressor to a gun increases both safety and performance. Suppressor ownership and use should be encouraged, not restricted.