Silencers are one of the fastest-growing segments of the firearms market, and silencer registrations in Ohio skyrocketed last year, according to federal data and industry experts.
Ohio saw the second largest increase in suppressor registrations in the nation, and experts said interest in the devices could blossom if state lawmakers decide to allow registered owners to use them for hunting.
Gun advocates said silencers reduce hearing problems related to loud gunfire and increase shooting accuracy. They said suppressors are safety devices but unfairly have received a bad reputation, because Hollywood movies primarily portray them as a criminal tool, used by assassins and Mafiosos.
“I believe the best reason to have them is for hearing protection,” said Ryan Carr, owner of Sunbury-based RC Firearms LLC, which sells the devices. “For this reason, hunting would be an excellent use of a silencer.”
Some gun-control groups said they do not have a stance on permitting hunters to use suppressors. But they said silencers in general pose some public safety risks, because they can allow violent criminals to shoot and kill people without creating loud noises that attract attention.
Between March 2012 and April 2013, registrations of silencers nationwide grew 37 percent to 494,452, according to a 2013 report, “Firearms Commerce in the United States,”by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Silencers popular in New York, Ohio
During that time frame, registrations in Ohio grew 144 percent to 25,353, which was the second largest increase in the nation, the report said. Only New York saw a larger increase (+156 percent to 2,948 registrations).
Silencers are legal in most states, and residents can legally obtain a suppressor by identifying and selecting a suppressor they want to purchase from a licensed dealer and then submitting the proper paperwork and passing a fairly lengthy screening process, industry experts said.
Applicants must submit a few ATF forms, along with a $200 tax payment. They also must submit fingerprint cards, a certification of citizenship and the signature of a chief law enforcement official in the applicant’s home jurisdiction.
Applicants typically must wait about a year for the ATF to process the applications, sellers said. The gun dealer will then receive a form from the ATF allowing them to transfer the silencer to the buyer.
Many people are unaware that silencers are legal, but sales of suppressor are rising as more people learn they can own them, said Carr, who is Class III gun dealer. Class III dealers can sell silencers, machine guns and explosive devices.
“Most people that come to me looking to buy one state that they saw a TV show or a video on the Internet about silencers,” he said.
A campaign is underway led by industry groups to change the image of suppressors.
Many people have negative views of silencers, because countless Hollywood movies show villains using them to silently assassinate people and create other bloody mayhem, said Silencerco, a Utah-based manufacturer of a variety of noise-suppression products.
But silencers serve practical purposes, including hearing protection and improved shooting accuracy and situational awareness, the company said.
Gunfire can lead to hearing loss among hunters and recreational shooters even if they use earplugs and earmuffs, the company said. Listening is also an important part of tracking prey, and hunters rarely use hearing protection even though they face risks including permanent hearing loss, the company said.
Bill aims to muffle sound
State Rep. Cheryl Grossman, R-Grove City, said she wants to help protect the hearing of hunters and that is why she has co-sponsored House Bill 234, which would make Ohio the 29th state to allow qualified hunters to use suppressors. Four neighboring states allow the activity. Ohio sold more than 424,900 general hunting licenses in 2012.
“This was brought to me by a hunter who is losing his hearing as a result of shooting firearms,” Grossman said. “These are law-abiding people who are dealing with significant health issues — as far as loss of hearing — that I am trying to provide relief to.”
Hunters can use earplugs to protect their hearing, but it is unsafe because they cannot hear whether animals or other hunters are in the area, she said.
“When silencers are used, it is not silent — it just muffles the sound significantly so hearing isn’t impaired,” she said.
Larry Moore, 63, of Jamestown, said he has hearing loss partly because he is a lifelong hunter and recreational shooter.
Moore, who testified in Columbus in support of H.B. 234, said guns may be the only consumer devices that are capable of creating noises above 150 decibels that the federal government does not require to have mufflers.
Moore said suppressors only are effective for rifles and handguns, which means they would not work with shotguns or muzzleloaders for deer hunting.
But he said more homes and housing developments are cropping up in rural areas, and suppressors would also help Ohio hunters avoid disturbing rural residents while taking down game.
“It primarily will help the guys who are squirrel hunting and coyote hunting,” he said. “Coyote hunting is becoming increasingly popular, but it is done in the evening, late at night or early morning, so using a suppressor while hunting coyote would make you a good neighbor.”
Toby Hoover, the executive director of the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence, said her organization does not have a stance on using suppressors for hunting.
But she said the loud noises guns produce help alert people of nearby danger, and suppressors in general reduce the chances that people will hear that bullets are being fired.
She said growing silencer registrations is concerning because they can aid criminal activities. She said rampage killers, such as Adam Lanza in Newtown, Conn., and James Holmes in Aurora, Colo., could have murdered more people if they had used silencers.
“If the young man in Newtown would have had one, how long would it have taken any of those teachers or school personnel to know what was going on?” Hoover said. “Imagine how much worse it could have been.”
Christopher Dorner, an ex-officer with the Los Angeles Police Department, reportedly used a silencer during his killing spree in southern California in early 2013, media reports show. Dorner killed a couple in a parking garage after firing more than a dozen shots, but neighbors did not hear a sound, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The loud sound of gunfire may be an inconvenience to shooters, but shooting victims experience lots of inconvenience when they are struck by bullets, Hoover said.
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