Law is not just an idealized system of rules: It also involves the public administration of those rules by a wide range of elected and appointed officials in an endless array of particular circumstances. For those who would defend a just legal order, the basic challenge is to strike a proper balance—between limiting the discretion of these officials so that they do not undermine the rule of law, while also allowing them enough leeway to perform their essential roles.
Lately in America, we have done a poor job of preserving this balance. In practice—and, increasingly, in legal theory—government officials have been given unprecedented ability to make exceptions to the law, both in enforcing it and in respecting the rights granted under it. Indeed, the past year has seen two of the most enormous pieces of legislation in U.S. history—the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act—make the imbalance far worse. Both laws seek to dramatically transform vast swaths of the American economy; both give enormous power to the government to bring about these transformations. And yet both laws are stunningly silent on exactly how these overhauls are to take place. The vague language of these statutes delegates much blanket authority to government officials who will, effectively, make the rules up as they go along.
I have been a longtime advocate of firearm suppressors (a.k.a. “silencers”). Regrettably, the National Firearms Act of 1934 grouped these safety devices together with machine guns and explosive weapons. Fortunately I live in a state that doesn’t restrict civilian ownership of these items. I have jumped through the bureaucratic hoops and paid the $200 tax needed to legally acquire several suppressors.
A few years ago, following the Heller victory in the Supreme Court, I reached out to some of the pro-RKBA organization strategists and asked if it wasn’t time to push for broader access to silencers. One theory I suggested was that obstacles to acquiring silencers unreasonably discriminate against pregnant women, who can’t safely practice shooting sports without them (because fetuses can’t wear hearing protection). Their responses were all along the lines of, “Yes, we ultimately need to get silencers out of the NFA, but one adverse court ruling could set us back. This is not yet the time.”
Apparently the time may finally be upon us. I have seen a growing awareness of the benefits of suppressors within the shooting community: In real life they don’t “silence” guns, but they do make them quiet enough to shoot without hearing protection and not risk permanent hearing damage. They also reduce recoil and trap toxic gases produced by some firearm loads. Ten years ago many shooters weren’t aware that civilians can legally own suppressors. Now they routinely show up on the firing lines of shooting clubs. And state governments are beginning to realize that more suppressors are probably a good thing.
The Kansas legislature has passed a measure allowing the use of suppressors for hunting, fishing and trapping. It’s been sent to Governor Sam Brownback for his approval.
Suppressors for hunting? Absolutely.
One state has finally realized that the suppressor isn’t the whisper-quiet instrument of choice for assassins, terrorists or other undesirables. It’s a safety device which not only protects the hearing of the hunter, it protects everyone’s hearing within ear shot (ouch) of the firearm.
Hopefully, this common-sense recognition of a tool to control noise and protect hearing will kick-start more attempts to get suppressors removed from the ATF’s list of “generally terrible things that don’t belong in the hands of average citizens”.
For years, we’ve pushed the fact that most European countries not only approve their usage, they encourage it. It might be the single example of elected officials who are anti-gun not using a “European model” as the example of a rule we should follow.
Everyone who owns a firearm should be learning about suppressors – and pushing for their removal from the ATF’s Class 3 regulations. They should be approved for ownership under the same guidelines as any firearm accessory. It’s not a firearm, cannot be made into a firearm (think very quiet zip gun -at best), and is, in fact, a protective device that should carry the same restrictions as eye and ear protection.
It’s time that another voice of the people campaign remind a relatively receptive bunch of elected officials that there’s a need for review and revision of many ATF practices and policies.