By Brandon Maddox

As of July 1 firearm owners in the state of Minnesota are legally allowed to own and possess silencers (or suppressors). SF 878 was passed with strong bipartisan support in both chambers and signed into law by Democrat Governor Mark Dayton. On August 1, 2015, the use of silencers  while hunting will be allowed in the North Star State. Silencers, for the uninitiated, are not the tools of spies and assassins that the media has portrayed them to be, but rather an innovative safety device that provide three key benefits to hunters and shooters . . .

  • The use of silencers decreases complaints of the noise of gunfire which are often used as an excuse to close public lands to hunting
  • Silencers decrease felt recoil and muzzle rise on a firearm which results in improved accuracy
  • Most importantly, silencers reduce the harsh sound of gun fire to hearing-safe levels, to protect the hearing of the shooter or anyone near them.

This law came into being due to the efforts of the American Suppressor Association throughout the 2015 Legislative Session in Minnesota. Minnesota has now become the 40th state to allow the ownership and use of silencers in accordance with federal law, but the road to freedom faced many hurdles beginning with the National Firearms Act (NFA) of 1934.

The National Firearms Act of 1934

As a result of sensationalized bank robberies during the Great Depression committed by the likes of John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd and Baby Face Nelson, the federal government decided the solution was to regulate silencers, machine guns, sawed-off shotguns and certain other firearms that did not serve a “sporting purpose”. To own an NFA firearm the owner had to pass a background check, submit fingerprints and photographs, gain the approval of a chief local law enforcement officer and pay a $200 tax (a substantial sum in 1934).

Because these were not considered mainstream firearms and there was no internet at the time, the law passed and few individuals including the NRA seemed to mind. In fact the NRA’s spokesperson at the time spoke in favor of this de facto ban.

The fact that silencers were not widely used in any crimes during the 1930s was completely lost on lawmakers. They were considered relatively new and exotic and were thrown under the proverbial bus along with everything else.

Although they were not illegal to own, the taxes, paperwork and associated frustrations involved in purchasing them put suppressors out of reach for the common man. State level incrementalism soon followed as numerous states passed their own laws in alignment with the NFA.

Minnesota attorney David Feinwachs puts it this way: “After the NFA was passed, a few states enacted bans on NFA weapons immediately. Minnesota is a rather cautious state, we are almost never the first to enact or ban anything, and this is why we are the 40th state to legitimize silencers. The reverse was true of the NFA, it took nearly 50 years after its passage for them to become illegal at the state level for Minnesotans.”

A Ban 50 Years in the Making

What changed was a Democrat Attorney General in the person of Hubert Horatio “Skip” Humphrey III. Prior to 1983, silencers were legal in Minnesota as long as the owners complied with federal law. Some people collected them as unique forms of historical mechanical art and some people used them for shooting.

Humphrey lead the push to make them illegal and even prohibited Minnesota police departments from lawfully obtaining them. Federal agencies such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) follow the laws set by state attorneys general and took no action to override or address Humphrey’s decision.

After he left office in 1999, things began to loosen up in the North Star State. First it was for police and government agencies.

Positive changes in the 21st Century

“They decided to let the police have them and some wildlife sanctuaries, but they carefully controlled the numbers allowed and when they could be used.” said attorney Feinwachs, “Private Citizens attempted to gain this same right using the collector of mechanical art argument, but the law at the time limited such collections to museums.”

In 2012 another change to the law was made, this time granting ownership rights to Federal Firearms License holders who maintained a Special Occupation Taxpayer license (SOT). This was done to keep rifle manufacturers such as JP Enterprises from moving out of the state.

“It’s beneficial to everyone in the industry and our state when government listens and understands the needs of the business community and orchestrates a workable solution,” said JP General Manager Mel Koenig, who testified on the bill’s behalf before both the Public Safety Committees in both the Minnesota House and Senate.

Minnesota becomes the 40th state to legalize silencers

Still, a handful of dealers do not make for the rights of all citizens to enjoy and use silencers, but at least the tyrannical bonds were loosening. This gave the needed impetus for groups like the American Suppressor Association to seek to reform the law by addressing the three roles that silencers fulfill within the shooting community.

The ASA along with the NRA and Representative Tony Cornish (R) worked together in making this legislation a sound one that would appeal to both sides of the gun control debate. Governor Mark Dayton threatened to veto the bill from the start, but when the language of the bill allowed for greater oversight and he ultimately relented. A revised version of the bill ensured that CLEOs would have the discretion to deny suppressor applications for people they deemed unsuitable to own one.

Additionally, legislators such as Rep. Mark Anderson (R), pointed out that silencers are not used in crimes and have not been for decades. As a hunter and sportsman he cited his own experiences: “If there’s days I’m standing out there with my waders on and I just make one shot, and as soon as I make that one shot, my ears are ringing every single time.”

“No, there won’t be a rash of ninja-related shootings,” Anderson added.

Feinwachs echoed this statement, “The fact is that illegal silencers are relatively easy to make for a low amount of money. Since this is the case, where are all the police reports of criminals using homemade silencers? Quite simply, there aren’t any in a substantial number and none whatsoever of a legal sound suppressor used to commit a crime.”

With the ban ending on July 1 and the hunting ban ending on August 1, Minnesotans who want to enjoy their new found freedom to own and use silencers still have a few hurdles to jump.

So where are all the silencers?

The change in Minnesota state law does not, of course, eliminate the strict federal provisions. Background checks will need to be conducted and the $200 tax paid to the NFA branch of the BATFE. The biggest hurdle may actually be finding a dealer who has silencers in stock. Dealers must submit a federal form number three in order to transfer NFA items among themselves and they can take 90 days or more.

One method of speeding the process is by buying through class 3 dealers who specialize in suppressors such as Dakota Silencer which does business in a number of states adjacent to Minnesota, and has recently opened a Minnesota location.

In a political climate where everything firearms-related appears to be the target of at least one political party in the United States, it is refreshing to see some freedom restored as it has been in Minnesota. In this instance it is particularly noteworthy that it is about what boils down to a safety device. If certain political action groups who clamored for “firearm safety” actually were concerned with safe firearms use, silencers would not be regulated and would be included with every firearm purchase.

The good news: there are only ten states left to go to make silencers a universal freedom for all Americans.

Brandon Maddox is CEO of Dakota Silencer.

19 Responses to The Long March To Silencer Legalization in Minnesota

  1. When the NFA was passed, the $200 fee would have been equivalent to $3500 in today’s money. During the great depression. It was a ban on silencers for anyone except the wealthy and politically powerful.

    • Yes, it was presented as a revenue raising measure, but it was simply a punitive tax designed to act as a de facto ban.

      $200 on a $2 Maxim muffler?
      $200 on a $50 Thompson?

      And by now, I’m reasonably certain it costs more to administer the tax than they collect on the tax, so any claims of revenue generation are purely fictional.

    • Minnesota is a rather cautious state, we are almost never the first to enact or ban anything, and this is why we are the 40th state to legitimize silencers

      But not in Iowa. The head libtard in the Iowa Senate would allow such.

  2. The Gun Owners Action League and the American Suppressor Association are trying to legalize suppressors in Massachusetts. Seriously. In Massachusetts. All I have to say is:

    Mwahahahahahahahahahahah! Stop! You’re killing me!

    The very thought of the Masshole legislators — who learned about suppressors from old Boston Blackie movies — legalizing anything about firearms is so insane that it must be taken from an Onion article or something.

  3. Was watching a movie and the actor had an enormous rifle fitted with a suppressor. The blasts inside a motel room barely bade a sound. This is why so many people think suppressors are only for nefarious purpose. They are a muffler. Old dirtbike people understand. Uncap an expansion chamber.

    • You’d be surprised to learn that legislators even here in Wyoming think this is how quiet silencers are. Stupidity can be found on the subject literally everywhere.

  4. OK, so, do any of our Absolute-Rights-RIGHT-NOW readers see the handwriting on the wall here?

    Government passes a stupid law without a basis in fact to justify it. Now, we have a pattern of States recognizing that their own laws passed in furthering the stupidity of a Federal law are waking up and smelling the demands of their citizens.

    Meanwhile, in the Europe whose gun laws we are all supposed to have such awe and respect for, silencers are sold with little to no regulation at all.

    It’s about time that we PotG petition Congress for a redress-of-greviance against the inclusion of silencers in the NFA of ’34. Stick to that ONE issue.

    The objective should not be to save a few tens of thousands of PotG their ears, time or $200. Instead, the objective should be to have a public airing of the dirty linen of firearms-law-foolishness. Make the Antis and their Democrat lap-dogs sit-up to the microphone and publicly justify the continued regulation of silencers. Make them explain why silencers in America are such a grave threat to public safety when the Europeans don’t regard them as such.

    Whether we win or lose the battle for removing silencers from the NFA we will have a public demonstration of how foolish the justification for this law is. And, that demonstration will tend to undermine confidence in gun-laws in general.

    (As a similar example, in NJ it is a felony to possess a child’s sling-shot. The basis for such a brilliant defense of the public safety? The committee decided to prohibit “slung-shots” (a blackjack on a stick). Some brilliant clerk “corrected” a spelling error and the legislature passed the law prohibiting “sling-shots”. But rest assured, you won’t be arrested and jailed if you bring a slung-shot to NJ.)

    Once silencers are de-listed, we go back for a second dip on SBRs. This will be another circus. Why is a rifle among the most lightly regulated weapons? Why is the handgun in the category of the 2’nd most lightly regulated class of weapons? Ah, yes, and then it follows that the SBR which is a hybrid of these two is in the most heavily regulated class of weapons! Of course; let the ATF and Democrats explain that.

    Move SBRs off the list, next SBSs. Much the same line-of-reasoning.

    Then, have the ATF and Democrats explain AOW and the $5 transfer tax.

    By this time, enough damage will have been done to the NFA that it might be worth considering an attack on either DDs or MGs.

    I’m not sure it’s wise to try to delist DDs entirely. However, one could say that it doesn’t make sense to require registration and taxation of each “disposable” item that qualifies as a DD.

    For example, howitzers were used by ski-resort operators to clear avalanche dangers. A perfectly legitimate purpose in the interest of public safety. OK, fine. Let’s maintain the registration of the field piece. Tax isn’t prohibitive. But why register each particular shell? Does this really make sense? Would it suffice for the owner to obtain a registration for – say – a dozen shells and pay the tax on a dozen shells? Maybe a dozen shells would serve his requirements for a season. If he uses 7 shells in a season he could buy another 7 new shells for the next season without additional paperwork or taxes.

    The issue here is NOT necessarily ski resorts. Instead, ski resorts are merely illustrative of the potential for legitimate use of some artifact that properly fits the definition of a “destructive device”. The economics of the regulatory scheme are apt to rule-out the invention and development of such useful inventions UNNECESSARILY. The inventions will be stillborn if they are taxed and regulated prohibitively.

    Should such a course of action against DDs succeed, perhaps the attack on MGs could be undertaken with a challenge to the burst-fire innovation. Does it really make sense to regulate burst-fire in the same way as are regulated full-automatic arms?

    A measured step would be to exclude burst-fire arms from the Hughes Amendment; i.e., new burst-fire weapons could be taxed and registered notwithstanding they were registered after 1986. This is all – of course – merely a technical correction to the NFA of ’34 to bring it up-to-date with evolution in technology. It’s not really “legalizing” full-automatic weapons.

    My ambition, here, is NOT PRIMARILY to disassemble the NFA by a death-of-a-dozen-cuts. Instead, it is to advance the cause of gun-rights through an incremental process that will put the Antis and Democrats on the defensive. If they can’t defend the NFA then that puts the entire maze of gun-control legislation under the spot-light. Nor do we have to win each successive fight. We might lose them all – yet, make our point. The quotes we green from the ATF and Democrats at hearings can be used to haunt them in other contexts.

  5. I tried to hold up Minnesota as an example when trying to persuade the Iowa Senate leadership to put our omnibus gun bill to a vote (that would have legalized suppressors amongst many other positive things). If they, a wholly Democrat controlled state could do it, we, with a Republican House and Governor, surely could as well. But Sen. Gronstall, one person, could make the decision to not bring a bill to a vote that had passed multiple committees and the House twice… Just not put it to a vote! When I went through civics in 8th grade, no one told me that was part of the Republic’s checks and balances.

    Way to go MN! Hopefully you’ve paved the way to further firearms freedom in the Midwest.

    • Actually the House in MN swings R, the Senate goes D, and the Governor (who often appears to be a totally stark raving lunatic) is a D. Pockets are downright Libertarian. I moved here a few months ago and have been pleasantly surprised by the political climate.

      • Iowa is about the same except the Senate Majority leader is a stark raving lunatic demtard who THINKS he is the governor.

        Our governor (Branstad) has his picture is on the RINO 3 dollar bill. The worst kind of flaming moderate who has been the gov so long he began before Republicans realized that RINO was an invasive species. Near totally useless. A Jellyfish has more vertebrae.

  6. We’re in the same boat here in Illinois. A suppressor bill would probably pass, but King Madigan won’t let it out of committee.

  7. One reason given for taxing suppressors was the fear of increased poaching during the “Great Depression”. The theory assumed that people would be less included to poach if they couldn’t afford the NFA tax on a suppressor. Naturally, if someone is inclined to commit one crime, adding a second crime to their act is more than any conscientious person can stand, so he won’t commit any crime at all – even if it means letting his family starve. Yea, it doesn’t make any sense to me either, but then, neither do ‘gun free’ zones like movie theaters and recruiting centers. And yet that kind of faulty reasoning still permeates too many legislative and bureaucratic bodies. Go figure.

  8. Vermont just became legal this month. I read Nicks articles on purchasing suppressors. I set up a trust, ordered 4 (1 for 30 cal, and the rest for 9-22), and will see how it goes. We are excited to finally be able to target shoot with less noise and hope that within a few years we can do so hunting as well (especially on shotguns for waterfowl). I assuming I will have to wait 6 months or more before I can take these things home.

  9. It is obvious this article was written by someone who did not actively participate in the last few years of MN gun politics. I might even go so far as to say this is was a shameless advertising article disguised as an update on MN laws. How an article like this get written without any mention of GOCRA or MNGOPAC is sad because it shows how little research/participation was actually done. Also I have never heard of the ASA before this article and what do you know a little research shows it is an industry (suppressors) association. Brandon, nice job getting a piece of advertisement posted as legit news, TTAG editors, nice job not vetting your articles at all.

    • While it may well be an advertisement, the ASA is a legit group, advising state gun rights groups on lobbying, and lobbying on the national level as well. I would be very surprised if GOCRA or MNGOPAC or both weren’t getting some close support from the ASA.

    • Second on the kudos for Minnesota’s local gun rights groups. They worked long and hard, and got out a strong presence from the grass roots at the legislative hearings.
      And Bill’s Gun Shop and Arnzen Arms ARE stocking suppressors. Take your carpet bag and go home, mister.

  10. “The good news: there are only ten states left to go to make silencers a universal freedom for all Americans.”

    Oy, no good news there, the good news is that a specious (at best) argument to tax and probe you heavily to allow you to obtain something, in the name of safety should be b_tch-slapped into another dimension, NOT allowed to golden-parachute its way slowly out of existence, abdicating the appropriateness of both the process, and the processors.

    All B.S. and current and future grief.

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