The Sounds of Silencers

In case you haven’t noticed, Washington D.C. is a sieve on a sinking ship whose life rafts have holes in them. And I’m not talking about Donald Trump. No, it’s the ATF, also known as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explsives, aka BATFE. But they’re going with ATF, and so are we.

On January 20, 2017–the day the Donald was inaugurated–Ronald Turk, Associate Deputy Director (Chief Operating Officer), issued a white paper, titled “Options to Reduce or Modify Firearms Regulations.” Right there on the coversheet, immediately below the words White Paper is the following warning: (Not for public distribution).

For those from another planet, those words mean “Not for public distribution.”

Anyway, here we are two weeks and three days later, and you’re reading about the white paper on my blog. Now you’re going to get to read a few actual paragraphs from the paper. But first I should quote the following, again, from the paper:

Note: The opinions expressed within this white paper are not those of the ATF; they are merely the ideas and opinions of this writer. They are provided for internal use within ATF and DOJ and not intended to be public. They are also general thoughts that cannot be taken as exacting language regarding policy or quotable specifics. Additional specific details can be provided to further these general discussions.

The men and women of ATF are overwhelmingly a fantastic group of hard working civil servants who look to reduce violent crime and ensure public safety. The focus on combating gun violence is key. Fairly regulating the firearms and explosives industries is also important. As the firearms conversations take place over the next few months and years, this paper is offered to provide informal insight on potential productive ways to limit regulation and continue to protect our Second Amendment freedoms, while focusing on ATF’s mission to protect our nation. (Italics and bolding in the original)

As Mr. Turk makes even clearer in the paper’s Executive Summary:

ATF is the only Federal law enforcement agency with a primary mission that directly involves an Amendment to the United States Constitution. Thus, our actions and policies are appropriately subjected to intense review and scrutiny. This paper serves to provide the new Administration and the Bureau multiple options to consider and discuss regarding firearms regulations specific to ATF. These general thoughts provide potential ways to reduce or modify regulations, or suggest changes that promote commerce and defend the Second Amendment without significant negative impact on ATF’s mission to fight violent firearms crime and regulate the firearms industry. This white paper is intended to provide ideas and provoke conversation; it is not guidance or policy of any kind.

ATF’s enforcement and regulatory efforts are focused on reducing violence and increasing public safety. Positive steps to further reduce gun violence through enforcement or regulation are extremely important but are not the focus of this paper. (Emphasis supplied)

Mr. Turk proceeds to list and discuss 16 items he feels  are worth looking at with the intent of possibly making some changes to the way the ATF fulfills its mission. For purposes of this post, item or paragraph #8 is the most interesting. I’ll quote it in full here:

Silencers: Current Federal law requires ATF to regulate silencers under the NFA. This requires a Federal tax payment of $200 for transfers, ATF approval, and entry of the silencer into a national NFA database. In the past several years, opinions about silencers have changed across the United States. Their use to reduce noise at shooting ranges and applications within the sporting and hunting industry are now well recognized. At present, 42 states generally allow silencers to be used for sporting purposes. The wide acceptance of silencers and corresponding changes in state laws have created substantial demand across the country. This surge in demand has caused ATF to have a significant backlog on silencer applications. ATF’s processing time is now approximately 8 months. ATF has devoted substantial resources in attempts to reduce processing times, spending over $1 million annually in overtime and temporary duty expenses, and dedicating over 33 additional full-time and contract positions since 2011 to support NFA processing. Despite these efforts, NFA processing times are widely viewed by applicants and the industry as far too long, resulting in numerous complaints to Congress. Since silencers account for the vast majority of NFA applications, the most direct way to reduce processing times is to reduce the number of silencer applications. In light of the expanding demand and acceptance of silencers, however, that volume is unlikely to diminish unless they are removed from the NFA. While DOJ and ATF have historically not supported removal of items from the NFA, the change in public acceptance of silencers arguably indicates that the reason for their inclusion in the NFA is archaic and historical reluctance to removing them from the NFA should be reevaluated.ATF’s experience with the criminal use of silencers also supports reassessing their inclusion in the NFA. On average in the past 10 years, ATF has only recommended 44 defendants a year for prosecution on silencer-related violations; of those, only approximately 6 of the defendants had prior felony convictions. Moreover, consistent with this low number of prosecution referrals, silencers are very rarely used in criminal shootings. Given the lack of criminality associated with silencers, it is reasonable to conclude that they should not be viewed as a threat to public safety necessitating NFA classification, and should be considered for reclassification under the GCA.

If such a change were to be considered, a revision in the definition of a silencer would be important. The current definition of a silencer extends to “any combination of [silencer] parts,” as well as “any part intended only for use in” a silencer. Compared to the definition of a firearm, which specifies the frame or receiver is the key regulated part, any individual silencer part is generally regulated just as if it were a completed silencer. Revising the definition could eliminate many of the current issues encountered by silencer manufacturers and their parts suppliers. Specifically, clarifying when a part or combination of parts meets a minimum threshold requiring serialization would be useful. (Emphasis and underlining added)

Have you ever shot a gun that had a silencer (aka suppressor). I have. Once. A 22 caliber handgun. Ffffft! Ffffft! Fffffft! The sound resembled a feral kitten defending itself. Ffffft! Ffffft! And just about as harmless. Surprisingly quiet, but then, why not? A 22 caliber handgun or rifle is pretty quite with or without a silencer.

A silencer on my 357 magnum? That’s another sound altogether. For the uninitiated, silencers don’t really silence anything. They simply suppress sound. Yes, James Bond uses a silencer to “eliminate” the sound of his kill. Hunters and marksmen, on the other hand, use silencers/suppressors to reduce the firearm’s retort so as to protect their ears. And the suppressor just barely does that job, reducing the sound to just below the number of decibels OSHA allows in the workplace. In other words, with the possible exception of the smallest caliber firearms, suppressors still allow for a big enough bang to damage a shooter’s ears over time.

And yet the knives–no guns for these folks–are already out, wielded by people who’ve seen one too many Bond flicks and whose motto is there’s no regulation too strong and too ineffectual for the gun industry.

Good news is, it’s sounding like the ATF might be thinking of listening to more rational people. Let’s hope so. Could save you $200 on your next suppressor purchase.

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