Anyone who thinks the Washington Post is unbiased in their opinions about firearms and silencers hasn’t been paying attention. The latest fact-free opinion piece is written by Robert J. Spitzer, a New York academic who seems to have about as much experience with firearms and American gun laws as a small child would have with the latest Supreme Court decisions. I haven’t done a good point by point takedown in a while and this one was just screaming for it. Shall we see what Mr. Spitzer has to say?
Ari Fleischer, press secretary for President George W. Bush, chanced to be passing through the Fort Lauderdale airport on Jan. 6 when he heard what he described as “multiple gunshots ringing out” close by. “We all realized it was gunfire, and it was coming from the level below us at the escalator.” Five people were killed, and six were injured. Fleischer and others could easily have walked straight into the line of fire had they not been able to hear those shots.
The implication is obvious here: gunshots are a great way to alert people to danger and get them to scatter, reducing the overall death toll. On the surface it seems like a good idea but there are some major issues.
First and foremost a “silencer” doesn’t actually make a gun silent, something Robert can confirm — he still blames an incident with a GLOCK 19 and a SilencerCo Osprey for some hearing loss he suffered, but I think he just wants an excuse to ignore me. Silencers will reduce the noise a gun makes but they cannot completely eliminate it. Suppressed guns are still loud enough to be heard from across an airport baggage claim.
The other issue is one of weapon selection, which is something I know very well given my background as a terrorism risk analyst. The shooter in that case used a handgun because it was easy to conceal and readily deployable from concealment. That’s the same reason gang members tend to use handguns for their crimes instead of rifles: they prefer the ability to easily conceal and dispose of the firearm over firepower or capacity. Silencers add a significant amount of length to the end of the gun, making it more difficult to conceal and heavier to carry. In the weapon selection rankings a suppressed handgun would probably rate below most rifles.
Gunfire — loud, sharp, rude, abrupt — is an important safety feature of any firearm. From potential victims who seek to escape a mass shooting to a hiker being alerted to the presence of a hunter in the woods, the sound warns bystanders of potentially lethal danger. Yet gun advocates insist there is a greater danger: hearing loss by gun owners.
I heard the same complaint from the Texas Parks & Wildlife guy who taught my hunter education course the year silencers were legalized, that silencers would make it more dangerous for people in the woods. There are two huge problems with the author’s premonitions of doom and gloom.
First, by the time you hear the gunshot it’s already too late. Sound usually travels slower than projectiles, so if you’re relying on the report of a rifle to alert you to danger then you are going to be way behind the power curve. Second, hunters are typically rather well trained marksmen. There might be the occasional bad shot or poor hunter who doesn’t pick a spot with a good backstop, but in general hunters hit what they are aiming at and do a good job of ensuring that no animals (human or otherwise) are injured except their intended target.
Moving on, the author’s biggest point seems to be that the massive perceived danger posed by the decriminalization of silencers is not outweighed by the health benefits of preventing hearing loss. He presents the issue of hearing loss as if it were a negligible risk, one that is either fabricated by gun owners or simply too insignificant a health hazard to warrant any consideration. The CDC disagrees and thinks that silencers are a good way to mitigate the considerable health risks to hearing loss from gun ranges.
The NRA is renewing with gusto its misbegotten push, begun in the last Congress, to make gun silencers easier to acquire by swiping a page from the public health community’s long-standing efforts to warn of the dangers of firearms. The Hearing Protection Act, which would remove federal registration and identification requirements for those seeking gun silencers, has received the blessing of President Trump’s son, Donald Jr., and the welcome of the gun-friendly 115th Congress. Even though silencer purchases are legal in all but eight states, advocates want to sweep aside background check and record-keeping requirements, such as photos and fingerprinting, first enacted as part of the National Firearms Act of 1934 , a law passed to curb gangster weapons such as submachine guns and sawed-off shotguns.
There ain’t a lick of fair and balanced reporting in that paragraph. If you didn’t know Spitzer’s viewpoint on guns you sure do now.
Silencers in and of themselves aren’t firearms, and that’s just a fact (no alternative facts need apply). If you insert a round of ammunition it will simply rattle around like a rain stick, not fire in a deadly manner. There’s no way you can use one to kill someone — unless you use it to beat someone to death. You still need an actual working firearm first which is subject to the same regulations that are currently in place. And given our current firearms laws the murder rate is at a 51 year low. This law doesn’t change a thing about the availability of guns.
Saying that the mere possession of a silencer is dangerous is like saying possession of a bottle cork means you are intoxicated. There’s a couple intermediate steps missing that Mr. Spitzer simply assumes will happen.
There’s a second lie in this paragraph. Spitzer states that the National Firearms Act was passed to keep gangsters from getting machine guns and sawn-off shotguns. This is true, but the implication is false. Gangsters were not using suppressed weapons in the 1930’s, and they still don’t use them today. Silencers were added to the National Firearms Act to punish poachers who would illegally kill deer to feed themselves and their families during the Great Depression. So while he got the reason behind the bill correct his implication that the National Firearms Act’s prohibition on silencers was a crime reduction measure is 100% false.
Beyond the familiar political imperative to eviscerate any and all gun laws — so why not this one? — the goal is clearly to boost silencer (advocates prefer the term “suppressor”) sales, which have already become a gun industry boomlet. Further proliferation of silencers would also have the commercial benefit of boosting gun sales, because most existing guns do not have the threaded barrels necessary to attach them.
Is the goal really to “boost silencer sales”? Or is the goal to allow hunters and recreational shooters to enjoy their firearms in a quieter and more relaxed environment?
One of the major issues with gun control activists like Mr. Spitzer appears to be is that they always ascribe the activities of the NRA and gun rights organizations to the will of the “evil gun industry.” He might be half right in that gun industry folks are shooters who want to see things get better for themselves personally, but the NRA especially is an organization made up of millions of dues paying members who vote on and agitate for issues in which they have a vested interest.
If only firearms industry members cared about the Hearing Protection Act, then why would it be the #2 most viewed bill on the congressional website?
There’s another statement in Mr. Spitzer’s article here that betrays his personal lack of knowledge about firearms. You would assume that someone writing about how a firearms law is bad would have some modicum of understanding of the industry and firearms technology but apparently that is too much to ask of the SUNY academics. He claims that this would be a move by the gun industry to sell more firearms since (according to him) most guns don’t ship with a threaded barrel and shooters would need a completely new gun for their new silencer. This is, of course, completely false. First, most models of firearm these days have a threaded barrel as an option. And second, aftermarket threaded barrels are available for every handgun and most rifles meaning that a cheap drop-in replacement is available instead of needing a whole new gun.
That right there was Spitzer’s whole argument that the “evil gun lobby” was behind this move: the opportunity to sell more guns because of the need for threaded barrels. An argument based on a complete lack of understanding of how firearms work, how the NRA works, and the firearms industry as a whole.
In addition to touting the supposed “public health” threat to gun owners’ hearing, silencer advocates also say that they reduce gun recoil, thereby increasing accuracy, and make the shooting experience “more neighborly,” according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation. The simple and obvious expedients of wearing earplugs or ear covers are alternately dubbed inadequate to protect hearing and a drag on the social experience of shooting. Concerns about criminal use are brushed aside by noting that, as the NSSF says, silencers do not “increase crime.”
Oh look, he’s actually spending a paragraph on the benefits of silencers in order to appear somewhat “fair and balanced.” Even here he takes the opportunity to ridicule gun owners and brush aside little things like facts.
Earplugs and earmuffs are, indeed, a cheap and expedient way of reducing the impact of firearms noise on the shooter. But calling that solution good enough for shooters is to treat them like hermits in an isolated bubble instead of the friendly social folk they are.
One of the biggest benefits from silencers is the ability to communicate with other people on the range, especially while giving instruction. Talking is damn near impossible on a shared firing range due to the constant gunfire drowning out every other word, and the raised tone with which instructors must speak to make their words audible through the hearing protection increases the stress on both the shooter and the instructor, making it a poor experience for both. This is especially important while hunting out in the field, as the ability to exchange information between hunting partners (or an instructor and a student) is imperative and normal hearing protection makes that process difficult if not impossible.
Famed silencer designer Kevin Brittingham taught each of his children how to shoot using suppressed firearms and recommends it for everyone else as well. In his opinion it made for a much more relaxed environment where information could be exchanged in a calm manner, lowering the stress levels and making everyone more comfortable with the situation. Out in the field both his son and at least one of his daughters have harvested deer on his local farm outside Atlanta, Georgia using suppressed weapons and according to him it allowed him to better communicate with his kids and better guide them through the process.
When I hunted with a silencer for the first time I found the same benefits. It improved communication between myself and my partner, and it also allowed me to be better in tune with what was going on around me. The last time I went hunting I actually found my buck by sound, not sight.
If Mr. Spitzer is so concerned about hunters accidentally shooting people in the woods, why not let them use silencers and take off their hearing protection so they can actually hear other people coming? Ya know, try to eliminate the problem of shooting in directions where people are walking instead of worrying about giving people warning after the rounds have already zipped through? Nah, that’s too logical.
But one might attribute silencers’ rare use in modern crime (the Violence Policy Center notes modern silencer use in a handful of serious crimes since 2011) to the success of the strict federal registration requirements governing them — a gun law that has worked, in other words.
It’s the same argument here that has been used time and again. Silencers haven’t been used in crimes, so therefore the regulation must be working. Also, dogs haven’t been seen driving many cars so therefore the driver licensing process must work.
This “blood in the streets” argument has been used to deny everything from concealed carry to large size sodas. Time and again it has been proven to be completely unfounded — concealed carry holders don’t go on shooting rampages whenever their cheeseburger doesn’t have enough bacon on it, gun ranges don’t attract hordes of gangbangers to the area, and hunting with silencers has not led to a pile of bodies across the state of Texas. But the arguments still work because gun control activists think that they have a solution that works and don’t want to take the risk of losing that control, even if it means improving the lives of millions of Americans. Let them wear earplugs, if it saves only one life it will be worth it.
Our forebears recognized the dangers of silencers almost immediately, and they weren’t limited to fears about criminal use. The silencer was invented in 1908 by Hiram Maxim, and the first state law outlawing silencers’ sale or possession came within a year — a Maine ban enacted in 1909. Pittsburgh moved against silencers that same year. As the city’s superintendent of police warned, “The risk of shooting is too great; the discharge of the weapon makes too much noise and attracts too many people. But with a silencer in use this would be different.”
From then until 1934, at least 13 states enacted silencer laws, with five of them specifically barring their use in hunting. North Carolina’s 1925 law, for example, barred “any gun” used for hunting “that does not produce when discharged the usual and ordinary report.” Ironically, Maxim ceased manufacturing silencers in 1930, according to the New York Times, “because of the popular impression that this invention was an aid to crime.” Instead, he turned his energies to automobile mufflers.
Mr. Spitzer isn’t citing fact — he’s citing speculation. Pittsburgh didn’t ban silencers because of a rash of suppressed murders, instead they were banned based on the fear that it might come to pass. There was no factual evidence to support the original ban and there remains no factual evidence to support the continuation of the ban. The only support for Mr. Spitzer’s argument is emotion and fear, not fact or evidence of any kind.
That’s not a stance that has taken root overseas in the rest of the developed world. In France, a country with the strictest gun laws in Europe, silencers are unregulated and available over the counter. In Great Britain permits for suppressors are regularly issued along with the firearms permit with no additional work. They are seen as health and safety benefits, and the ready availability has not increased the murder rate or caused the “blood in the streets” response that Mr. Spitzer has described.
In short, there’s no factual basis for any of Mr. Spitzer’s claims. Not a single one.
Absent some kind of cataclysmic hearing-loss crisis by America’s tens of millions of gun owners, this political push should be recognized for what it is: an effort to provide an extremely small benefit to gun owners that willfully ignores what can happen to others once a bullet leaves a gun barrel. The lifesaving safety benefits of gun noise should weigh far more in the silencer debate. Just ask anyone caught in the vicinity of a shooting.
It’s obvious at this point that Mr. Spitzer has never actually fired a suppressed weapon. Will a mass shooter actually use a silencer? I can’t think of any who have, even in states where they are already legal, and it doesn’t make sense from a weapon selection point of view. In fact, none of the mass shootings in France last year used a silencer despite those devices being available “over the counter” as the Hearing Protection Act wants to make it in the United States. Will a suppressed weapon reduce the “lifesaving safety benefits” of a loud gunshot? Not really, they are still loud as all heck and definitely will draw attention to the shooter.
But calling the reduction of noise at gun ranges a “small benefit” is a misleading statement. Everyone from the CDC to my kid sister knows that guns are loud and can permanently damage your hearing, and quiet guns are much better than loud guns. Making instruction easier, improving accuracy, and reducing noise pollution near gun ranges are all major benefits that come from silencer use.
There’s really no factual basis for Mr. Spitzer’s argument. He believes that gun owners should suffer and continue to harm their hearing unnecessarily so that in the astonishingly slim chance that a mass shooting takes place with a silencer equipped firearm the victims might possibly have a split second more warning. It shows once more the utter contempt with which gun control activists see the American gun owner, actively arguing that a safety device recognized for its effectiveness without any associated increase in crime around the developed world should not be more easily accessible within our borders. It’s almost like they revel in our pain, loving the fact that shooting is unpleasant and wishing us continued injury merely because we like to shoot guns.