“Dakota Silencer,” the sign says on the Game Fair booth — a first of its kind in the 34 years the outdoors festival has been held in Ramsey, near Anoka.
That’s because until this year, it wasn’t legal to own a gun suppressor in Minnesota.
Known popularly as silencers (though unlike in the movies, these gun add-ons don’t completely silence firearms), suppressors were legalized by the Legislature in its most recent session.
Now Minnesota gun owners are free to own suppressors — silencers — and Dakota Silencer, a company founded by Brandon Maddox of Sioux Falls, S.D., is at Game Fair touting the company’s wares.
Surprisingly, Maddox said, many gun owners here don’t know silencers are legal.
“I think they heard that Gov. [Mark] Dayton wanted to veto the bill and thought he did,” Maddox said. “But Dayton signed the bill. He didn’t veto it. So a big part of what we do at Game Fair is educate people.”
A pharmacist by profession, Maddox became enamored of silencers years ago when he first realized their value to varmint hunters, particularly those who chase coyotes in winter in the Dakotas.
Not uncommonly, these long-range shooters call in two or three animals at once. But when they draw down on one, and fire, the others typically scatter.
Silencers that quiet a gun’s report can sometimes keep the animals gathered, even after the trigger is squeezed, allowing a second shot.
“Our silencers used for varmint hunting are our best selling models,” Maddox said.
Dakota Silencer hopes to expand its market at exhibitions, such as Game Fair, and at gun shows.
Buying a suppressor isn’t quite like purchasing a car, however. Nor is it similar to buying a gun — not even a handgun.
Regulated by the same federal law that governs machine guns, silencers — which were invented in the early 1900s — never have presented a national criminal threat, notwithstanding their portrayals on the big screen.
Instead, their U.S. regulation, beginning almost a century ago, stemmed from their perceived potential as wildlife poaching tools.
To what degree wildlife crimes over the years could be traced to silencer use is unknown. But it’s likely the price of silencers today — which generally range from about $400 to $1,200 — together with the time and background checks required to buy suppressors, keeps would-be poachers out of the present-day market.
Instead, most silencers are purchased to prevent hearing loss, to aid hunting success (as for varmints), to reduce recoil and/or to minimize shooting disturbance to humans as well as wildlife.
What’s required to purchase a silencer?
First, consider the gun you want to silence. If it’s a handgun, know that you’re in the minority among silencer purchasers.
“Relatively few silencers are sold for handguns,” Maddox said.
Know also that the barrel of whatever firearm you’re intending to fit with a suppressor must be threaded, so the suppressor can be screwed in.
Barrels of many modern AR-style long guns are pre-threaded. But most older rifles, regardless of their caliber, must be threaded by a gunsmith before they can be fitted with silencers.
Here’s a snapshot of how the silencer purchase unfolds:
• After selecting a silencer, the gun owner pays the dealer, usually in full. A silencer serial number is then assigned to the purchaser.
• If the purchaser is acquiring the silencer in his or her name alone, an application for transfer of the silencer will be sent to the FBI for a background check(s). A $200 application fee, or transfer tax, is required, and the purchaser is fingerprinted. Six months might pass before approval is given (or not), and only then can the silencer be picked up from the dealer.
• Application can also be made to own the silencer in trust. This is the most common route, Maddox said (“100 percent of our Minnesota customers do it this way”), because it allows multiple people named in the trust to use the silencer. Instead of the FBI, the trust application is sent to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE). A $200 transfer fee is required, but no background check is conducted of the trust “because the trust is an entity, not a person,” Maddox said. In about three months, the transfer will be approved (or not), and arrangement for pickup from, in Maddox’s case, a Dakota Silencer outlet near Alexandria, Minn., or at a Minnesota gun show, or in person with a company employee, will be arranged. A background check of the person picking up the silencer is required.
Details such as these explain why people at Game Fair who stop at the Dakota Silencer booth usually stay for a while.
As Maddox says, some education is required.