October 22, 2015
No, suppressors are not primarily used by assassins to kill people from afar.
But that's how they've been treated for decades. They're covered by the same regulations as machine guns and other "dangerous" weapons in the National Firearms Act of 1934.
That means owning a suppressor -- also called a silencer -- requires a lot more effort than most of the firearms to which they attach. You've got to fill out an application, pass a background check, pay $200 for a tax stamp (yes, it literally is a stamp) and, in most cases, wait months for everything to process.
It's arduous, and it doesn't make sense. A suppressor is basically a metal can with baffles, like a tiny muffler that screws on the end of a gun barrel. It doesn't make firearms any more dangerous or deadly -- unless, of course, you believe that assassins will use one to quietly kill you in your sleep.
And even then, it's the gun and the shooter that will ultimately do you in. The suppressor will simply make it quieter on everyone else's ears.
U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon has introduced the Hearing Protection Act to remove suppressors as NFA-regulated items. That means they would be subject to the same background checks and purchasing procedures as a .45-caliber pistol or a .22-caliber rifle.
That would lighten the load on federal agents who are barraged with requests for suppressors, which should speed wait times and arguably lead to more timely background checks. It also would reflect reality about suppressors, which have been used in almost no crimes but have become wildly popular among sport shooters who want to practice without making so much racket.
Salmon's law probably won't pass. For all the complaints about Congress doing nothing to beef up gun controls, there is similarly little appetite to loosen regulations, particularly when gun-control advocates paint suppressors as dangerous items that could be used in more crimes if they were easier to own -- allowing mass shooters to pick off people without anyone noticing, for example.
The statistics on those crimes won't matter. Perception has long trumped functionality in gun regulations, and that's not going to change anytime soon.