We’ve all seen the film noir images of the assassin sneaking into a room, peering around to make sure all is clear, the rain drips off his fedora as he slowly pulls the silencer out of his overcoat and begins threading it onto his pistol, all the while his eyes are alert for the slightest movement or sound. Slowly, he creeps across the wooden floor, his wingtip shoes silent on the hardwood floor. The assassin stops at the bedroom door, slowly turns the knob, and opens the door just a crack to peek in. He spots his target, sound asleep and snoring, creeps in closer, aims, pulls the trigger and we hear nothing but a clicking sound as the assassin does the deed.
As usual, what happens in a movie isn’t necessarily accurate in real life. We also know how many errors there are in the movie clip described above, have you ever tried walking silently on a hardwood floor in wingtips? It’s nearly impossible, as is completely silencing a firearm.
The genesis of laws pertaining to sound suppressors for firearms originated in the early 20th century, they were originally passed as hunting laws under the guise of stopping people from hunting at night, and/or poaching. I’m guessing that more than a few of the supporters of these early laws also had the silent movie assassin in their minds as well.
In today’s world of urban encroachment, passing legislation that “legalizes” possession of sound suppressors for firearms, makes sense. We are constantly hearing from clubs, property owners and town officials who are dealing with property rights disputes and often times the genesis of the complaints is derived from the sound of firearms in the distance.
Let’s clarify a couple of things before we continue. Notice above that I quoted “legalizes”. This is because ownership/possession of a sound suppressor for a firearm is currently legal in MA. The problem is that our legislature has created a very hard to navigate set of conditions and permits that need to be acquired before that’s possible. As we stand now, in Massachusetts, a citizen would have to possess a federal permit known as an 07FFL which recognizes the permit holder as a manufacturer and dealer of firearms in order to legally own/possess a sound suppressor. (This would be in addition to the regular federal and MA state requirements that need to be met, more on that below).
Also, it has to be pointed out; a sound suppressor on a firearm does not silence it as it is portrayed in the movies. Sound suppressors reduce the noise, exactly like a muffler on a car. Only the noise from the report of the shot being fired is reduced. There is still noise coming from the firearm in terms of the action working. More importantly there is still a supersonic crack from the bullet flying downrange.
As with anything to do with our Second Amendment this legislation will face opposition from people who don’t know any of the facts stated above. They will make uneducated and immature statements regarding killers using them to rack up a body count and talk about nobody “needing one”.
They want to simultaneously complain about the sound of firearms and claim that keeping them loud helps reduce crime.
Keeping sound suppressors for firearms out of the hands of law-abiding citizens makes ZERO sense. None, zilch, squat, nada, by the same logic, should we remove the mufflers from cars being driven by student drivers?
The suppressor, or “silencer” as it was originally called, was invented in the early 1900s by an MIT student named Hiram Maxim. Hiram was an avid firearms enthusiast who invented the “silencer” so he could shoot in his backyard in a more neighborly fashion.
His invention was hugely popular and was available for purchase in hardware stores for just over $3.00. Sportsmen and hunters enjoyed the benefits of suppressed firearms for years until the National Firearms Act of 1934 was passed. This law put a number of hurdles in place including the $200 tax stamp that still needs to be paid for anyone to obtain permission to own.
Should GOAL’s legislation pass, a citizen would need to be licensed to own a firearm in the state of Massachusetts and would need to meet the following federal requirements as outlined by the American Suppressor Association:
Suppressors are regulated under the National Firearms Act (NFA) of 1934, which falls under the purview of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). To legally purchase or possess a suppressor you must:
- Be at least 21 years of age to purchase a suppressor from a dealer.
- Be at least 18 years of age to purchase a suppressor from an individual on a Form 4 to Form 4 transfer (contingent on state laws).
- Be at least 18 years of age to possess a suppressor as a beneficiary of a trust or as a member of a corporation (contingent on state laws).
- Be a resident of the United States.
- Be legally eligible to purchase a firearm.
- Pass a BATFE background check with a typical process time of 60-120 days.
- Pay a one time $200 Transfer Tax.
- Reside in one of the 39 states that currently allow civilian ownership of suppressors.
The American Suppressor Association also does a great job listing the benefits of owning a suppressor:
Benefits of Suppressors
Noise induced hearing loss and tinnitus are two of the most common afflictions for recreational shooters and hunters. Everyone knows that gunfire is loud, but very few people understand the repercussions that shooting can have on their hearing until it’s too late.
Suppressors reduce the noise of a gunshot by an average of 20 – 35 dB, which is roughly the same as earplugs or earmuffs. By decreasing the overall sound signature, suppressors help to preserve the hearing of recreational shooters, hunters, and hunting dogs around the world.
Most hunters do not wear not wear hearing protection in the field because they want to hear their surroundings. The trouble is, exposure to even a single unsuppressed gunshot can, and often does, lead to permanent hearing damage. Suppressors allow hunters to maintain full situational awareness, while still protecting their hearing. The result is a safer hunting experience for the hunter, and for those nearby.
As urban developments advance into rural areas, shooting ranges and hunting preserves across the country are being closed due to noise complaints. Although it can still be heard, suppressed gunfire helps mitigate noise complaints from those who live near shooting ranges and hunting land.
One of the most common problems for shooters is decreased accuracy caused by flinching in anticipation of the firearms discharge and recoil. By containing the explosion of the gunpowder at the muzzle, suppressors reduce recoil, and help decrease muzzle flinch. These benefits lead to improved accuracy, better shot placement, and more humane hunts.
FDR is famously quoted as saying “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”, this rings true regarding suppressor legislation. There are many myths and unjust fears surrounding sound suppressors and they are just that, fears that have nothing to do with reality.
GOAL looks forward to working with our legislature towards bringing Massachusetts in-line with the bulk of the country. We will keep you updated regarding the status of this legislation as it moves along; let’s make MA muffled!