For stupid reasons they are effectively illegal in the United States and like so many other bad laws, a extraordinary combination of Hollywood and stupidity is to blame, but I repeat myself.
In most states it is legal to own and use a silencer, more correctly known as a suppressor. However, federal law requires an application, background check and last but not least a $200 tax stamp to buy one. Obviously this has a crushing effect on the market for these devices, and for no good reason at all. First, lets look at why I think they have essentially been outlawed.
If we were to take movies as fact, which sadly most people seem to do, you would expect a “silencer” to be used for killing people quietly, possessed by men in cheap suits, fedoras and dark sunglasses holding violin cases and running home to mama every Friday for her signature spaghetti and meatballs. The addition of a “silencer” makes a gun nearly silent, perfect for executions. If any of that were true, why don’t we see gang members using them? They ignore firearms laws as it is, I find it hard to believe that needing a background check and $200 stops them from getting a hold of these magical devices, yet we never hear of crime involving “silencers”.
Even absent Hollywood idiocy, it’s easy to see why “public opinion” is allegedly against “silencers”, who on earth would want people running around with guns that make no noise!
Like I have alluded to, they still make noise, in fact, if anything a suppressor makes the sound of a gun more recognizable. It’s easy to mistake a car backfiring for gun fire, but at no point in my life have I ever mistaken something else for the sound of a gun cycling. You might be asking the question, “if they don’t actually silence firearms, than why would anyone want one?” it’s a good question, so lets talk about what suppressors are used for.
1. Noise reduction. Obvious one, I know. If you have ever fired a gun, you know they can be a bit loud, and loud noises have a tendency to cause hearing damage, which is why you are supposed to wear ear protection when firing them. A major use of suppressors is to lower the report of a firearm to levels that are safe for unprotected ears, not to hide gunfire from the authorities, which they can’t do anyway. Another application is indoor shooting. Not only does this, once again, make firing guns safer for the ears, but it also makes the neighborhood more pleasant if you happen to live near a shooting range.
2. Flash suppression. Especially in cases where a firearm is being kept for the defense of ones home, reducing the flash means that in dark environments, your night vision might not be totally ruined. Another case of safety related usage.
3. Wildlife confusion. When hunting, aside from the obvious safety advantage of not needing hearing protection and so being more aware of what and who might be around you, if you miss a shot, the animal may have difficulty determining the direction from which the shot came, and so you may get a second, if not a third shot.
4. Center of gravity. Suppressors add weight to the front of a weapon, which reduces recoil. An advantage for hunters as well as in some cases of home defense and target shooting. I own an M-44, a Russian made semiautomatic carbine (mine is from 1946) with a bayonet that can’t be removed. It’s a great example here because it’s far more accurate with the bayonet extended rather than folded back, precisely because of the change in the center of gravity.
In the end, there is no reason why either a background check that criminals won’t get or a tax that they won’t pay are necessary or even useful. The law, as it often does, punishes parties who are not going to commit crimes, while not doing a thing to stop the crimes it seeks to prevent. In this case, the law has identified something that offers no advantages to law breakers and nothing but advantages to the law abiding, and made it illegal anyway.
I’m not even going to bother mentioning how easy it would be to make a suppressor at home if you really wanted to, criminals can do it, and they don’t because there is no reason to do so.
Yay for stupid laws and the stupid organizations that support them, like the Brady Campaign, one of the finest collections of idiots present in the United States today.