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The Silencer is Golden

Silence in times of suffering is the best.

–John Dryden.

At long last there is gun related news that does not implicate the second amendment.  The news involves a device related to guns that is enjoying a spike in sales. It is especially good news because although it is related to guns, the spike in sales of this particular product was not related, as gun related sales usually are, to acts of gun violence.  The spike in sales has to do with a federal regulation that is to take effect July 1, 2016, and the device that is enjoying a spike in sales is a silencer. This news was brought to us courtesy of the Wall Street Journal  and was especially surprising since many non-gun owners did not know that the purchase and sale of silencers was a big deal and certainly had no idea it was a big seller among the gun-toting crowd in the United States.  According to the WSJ reporter, however, we were ill informed.  There are, we have been informed, almost 800,000 silencers owned by gun owners in the United States.

This news probably comes as as much of a surprise to many of my readers as it did to me. It had never occurred to me that silencers were used except in gangster movies where the mobster, accompanied by one or two side-kicks, enters the restaurant, approaches a table where a rival is quietly seated enjoying a spaghetti dinner, exchanges a few words with the rival, takes aim, fires (the gun emitting a an almost inaudible pop) the target slumps over, face in the spaghetti, and the mobster and colleagues quietly turn and leave the restaurant.  (Other people seated in the restaurant continue eating, unaware, thanks to the silencer, that anything untoward has happened.) The belief that only mobsters use silencers, we have now learned, is wrong. They are everywhere gun owners are and accompany their owners as the owners walk around looking for opportunities to practice self-defense in a quiet way.

The spike in silencer sales, as observed above, is attributable to a regulation that is to take effect on July 1, 2016.  The National Firearms Act of 1934 imposed a requirement on would-be silencer purchasers that a local law enforcement agent approve the purchaser of a silencer before the sale could be completed.  (This requirement may have been imposed because the purchasers of silencers wanted to go about their business of murder quietly so as not to disturb those in the vicinity of the violence, and law enforcement was interested in knowing who was buying the devices.)  The law further provided that an individual owner of a silencer could not permit anyone else to use the silencer.  It was purchaser specific, as it were. To avoid complying with this apparently burdensome requirement, silencer purchasers created trusts that could buy silencers without getting the approval of law enforcement.  In addition, silencer trusts could share their assets with all the other members of their trusts. A large group of mobsters could simply buy one silencer and let it be used by anyone in the mob who was assigned the task of rubbing out, as the vernacular had it, someone in an opposing mob.

According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives, 111,599 trusts of the sort just described were created in 2014.  Under the new regulation the burden on these trusts will be greater.  Every member of a trust will have to undergo a background check and submit fingerprints and photos before the trust will be permitted to acquire a silencer.  And it is in an eagerness to avoid these new requirements that silencer sales have spiked.

Luis Rose owns Sterling Arsenal in Sterling, VA.  He told the WSJ reporter that in January 2016 he sold 6 times the number of silencers he would normally sell in a month in January.  (Silencers sell for between $800 and $1,200.)  He further said that only three of the approximately 2,000 silencers he sold in 2015 were bought by individuals rather than trusts.  Given those statistics, it is easy to see why there is practically a stampede to the sellers of silencers to get the product before it becomes more difficult to obtain.

A refreshing aspect to the concerns of those rushing to buy silencers is that no one has suggested that there is a second amendment right to buy and own a silencer. Would-be purchasers of silencers explain, when asked, that they simply want to protect themselves from hearing loss and there should not be a federal regulation that makes that more difficult.  Their argument proves one thing, if nothing else.  Compared with the gangsters of the ‘30s, the buyers of silencers today are wimps.  It’s hard to imagine Al Capone explaining to the seller of a silencer that he only needed it to protect against hearing loss.

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