Minnesota is edging closer to legalizing firearms sound suppressors — a long-overdue idea that will help reduce hearing loss among target shooters, hunters and other gun owners.
Commonly, and mistakenly, referred to as “silencers,” suppressors do not altogether quiet handguns or rifles (they aren’t used with shotguns). They do, however, muffle gunfire reports, which can in some cases cause shooters instant and irreparable hearing damage.
Don’t believe hearing loss can occur that quickly?
Just ask anyone who shoots. But be prepared to repeat yourself a time or two, until the question is heard and understood.
A little history:
The same guy — Hiram Maxim — who invented the car muffler also invented the firearm sound suppressor. This was in 1902, and the intent in each instance was to reduce noise levels to acceptable levels.
Maxim called his invention the “Maxim Silencer,” even though it didn’t silence anything. But it did reduce the amplitude of the sonic boom produced when a bullet departs a barrel muzzle faster than the speed of sound.
An example of the relative sound of a bullet fired through a suppressor is offered on the website of the Minnesota Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance, which notes sound reduction offered by a suppressor is about 30 decibels.
Put another way, the blast of a suppressor-enhanced 9mm pistol would be cut from 64 times louder than a jackhammer to about eight times louder, according to the website.
Though still a substantial noise, the muffled report is a lot less bothersome to the ears of shooters and to people living near gun ranges, where noise complaints are common.
The Republican-controlled Minnesota House passed a suppressor bill 89-40. And Thursday night, the Senate included a suppressor bill in an omnibus measure it approved 40-23.
The chief author in the House was Rep. Mark Anderson, R-Lake Shore. Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, was among the cosponsors.
“Thirty-nine states already allow suppressors, including the Dakotas and Wisconsin,” Cornish said. “Suppressors help keep noise down at gun ranges, and they can really save a shooter or hunter’s hearing.”
Even if the suppressor bill becomes law — and there are a few steps left — it’s unlikely a record-setting number of them will be purchased anytime soon in Minnesota.
The reason: Possession and use of firearm sound suppressors are regulated by the National Firearms Act of 1934, meaning the following hurdles must be overcome before a suppressor can be purchased:
• A licensed gun- or sporting-goods store must be paid in advance for a suppressor, which can range in price from $500 to $1,500.
• The signature of the prospective buyer’s local police chief or sheriff must be obtained on a suppressor application, triggering one of three background checks.
• The application must be submitted to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Included must be detailed information (including photo) about the applicant and the serial number of the suppressor to be purchased.
• The applicant must be fingerprinted.
• Applications require a nonrefundable $200 for each suppressor.
Typical approval wait times extend to nine months. Only then can the applicant return to the retail store to retrieve the sound suppressor he or she previously paid for.
Thinking of cutting corners? Bad idea. Possession of an unregistered suppressor can get you up to 10 years in federal prison. Use of a suppressor in a crime requires a mandatory 30 years.
In the DFL-controlled Minnesota Senate on Thursday, a suppressor bill authored by Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, was debated on the Senate floor and passed because little opposition on the proposal has arisen, Gazelka said.
“Some issues were raised about the possible use of suppressors in poaching,” said Cornish, a former Department of Natural Resources conservation officer and deputy sheriff. “But I looked at the other 39 states that allow suppressors, and I saw no problems. And during hearings in the House, there was only what I would call ‘weak’ law enforcement opposition to the proposal.”
Which is as it should be.
The hope now is that Gov. Mark Dayton will sign the omnibus bill, including the suppressor language.
People who hunt or shoot recreationally shouldn’t have to jeopardize their hearing to enjoy their sport when an option exists to mitigate the risk.
To be sure, suppressors are expensive and a hassle to obtain.
But still they are far cheaper, and less hassle, than hearing aids.