The U.S. gun industry is trying to shake off the Hollywood hitman image of the gun silencer and rebrand it as a hearing-protection device in a campaign to roll back regulations that date to the 1930s.
Industry lobbying has led to more than a dozen states legalizing silencers for hunting since 2011. Now gun advocates are pressing Congress to repeal a Depression-era law that requires a months-long screening process for silencer buyers – far more scrutiny than gun buyers face.
Sales of silencers – or “suppressors,” as the industry prefers to call them – are booming. The number of silencers registered with the U.S. government more than doubled to 792,282 in February 2015 from 360,534 in March 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
For a graphic showing the silencer sales boom, see http://tmsnrt.rs/1QoTDTU
Despite their name, silencers can only quiet a gunshot to the level of a jackhammer – not much use for James Bond-style hit jobs.
Silencers are rarely used in crimes, according to a 10-year study published in 2007 by the Western Criminology Review. Researchers estimated silencers were involved in 30 to 40 of the 75,000 federal criminal cases filed each year. The study found only two federal cases involving a silencer used in murders.
Arizona Republican Representative Matt Salmon said silencers could allow soldiers and hunters to avoid the kind of hearing damage that has forced him to wear a hearing aid after 50 years of shooting guns.
“If we have something that mitigates that kind of hearing loss, we ought to be encouraging it,” Salmon said.
In October, he introduced legislation that would replace the silencer screening process with a simpler background check.
The lobbying push alarms some legislators and game wardens who believe quieter guns could make it harder to catch criminals and poachers.
“What legitimate reason does a person have to be wandering around the streets of a big city with a silencer?” said Joe Mullery, a Democrat who represents a high-crime Minneapolis district in the Minnesota state legislature.
Read more: Huffington Post