NOISE-INDUCED HEARING LOSS and tinnitus are two of the most common afflictions among military veterans, police officers, recreational shooters and hunters. Gunfire is loud, and most shooters at the range take the necessary precautions by wearing hearing protection, though sometimes not enough. Few hunters wear ear pro in the field, and troops and police don't get the chance to call a cease-fire to dig out their muffs, which is unfortunate. Even one gunshot can permanently damage hearing, and the long-term financial impact to taxpayers is staggering. More disability claims are paid out to military veterans and retired law enforcement for hearing loss than any other type of injury. It's a plaguing problem, and suppression devices can help.
Not only are hunters protected when using a muffled firearm, it allows that hunter to maintain full situational awareness while causing less stress to nearby wildlife. If dogs are part of your kind of hunting, they could benefit, too. (Notably, SilencerCo offers a 12-gauge shotgun suppressor called the Salvo 12.)
Then there are the noise complaints. As urban areas consume surrounding rural property, shooting ranges and hunting preserves are regulated to the point of being closed. Although suppressed gunfire is not silenced, noise complaints from those who live nearby are diminished.
So, how do they impact accuracy? With some designs, suppressors actually give their host firearm an accuracy boost by slowing the expanding gases from influencing trajectory. Further, particularly with new shooters, the reduction of noise can decrease flinching and anticipation, which leads to better shot placement.
Whether you call them "cans," "suppressors" or "silencers" (as Hiram Percy Maxim patented his design in 1909), the growth in ownership and usage the last few years can be largely credited to the merits of education efforts by suppressor manufacturers and an independent organization formed in 2011, the American Suppressor Association (ASA).
"We try to hold as many legislative demonstrations as possible," says Knox Williams, president and executive director of the ASA. "We take a group of people out to a range, even inviting the most rabid anti-gun advocates. After they shoot a suppressed firearm, they usually come back and say, 'What's the big deal?"'
Vermont House of Representatives member Patrick Brennan experienced ups and downs with a pro-suppressor initiative that recently passed after several years of trying. The challenge in most situations is breaking out of a gridlock in committee. The ASA was able to gather 50 administrators from surrounding states' natural resource agencies and legislators at a range in nearby New Hampshire and show them what suppressors really were. The resulting bill in Vermont was gratifying.
"It's not a perfect bill," says Williams, "but it's a massive step in the right direction."
So what is the "perfect suppressor law" at the state level? Williams answers, "Civilians should be able to possess suppressors if they're in compliance with federal law, and there needs to be a provision for legal hunting. Additionally, there has to be a 'shall sign' component that prevents the Chief Law Enforcement Officer, or CLEO, from refusing to sign unless there is quantifiable data to suggest that a citizen shouldn't be able to have a suppressor."
Only a dozen states include a CLEO provision, and certain states' political climate is not ready for that change. "The resistance is with local law enforcement, because some feel they are conceding power," says Williams. "Some people forget that the CLEO signature was supposed to verify that a background check had been done. It was never intended to be veto authority."
As of this writing, it is legal to possess suppressors in 40 states. By the time you read this, the governor in Vermont may have also signed a bill, bringing that number up to 41. It's legal to hunt with suppressors in 36 states, with Montana and Minnesota recently changing its laws in favor. The ASA expects Maine and Michigan to join this movement by the end of the year for a total of 38.
"No state is impossible to reach," says Williams. "I don't think we'll ever get the District [of Columbia], but I'm optimistic in achieving pro-suppressor reform throughout the U.S."
As a veteran who suffers from hearing damage, I've been honored to be a board member of the ASA. I encourage you to join the cause. Find out more at americansuppressorassociation.com.
ERIC R. POOLE