August 30, 2017 — As Congress considers a proposal to rollback an 80-year-old federal law that regulates the sale of gun silencers, a new report released by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) proves that despite claims from the gun lobby that the federal regulations are too burdensome, the number of silencers registered with the ATF actually increased by nearly 50 percent in 2016. According to the ATF report, 1,360,023 silencers were registered with the ATF in 2016, an increase from 902,805 in 2015. The report also notes that over $62,596,000 in tax revenue was collected from the National Firearms Act in 2016, an increase from $32,462,000 in 2015.
Americans for Responsible Solutions, the gun violence prevention organization founded by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and retired NASA astronaut Captain Mark Kelly, released the following statement reacting to the new report:
Peter Ambler, Executive Director, Americans For Responsible Solutions:
“It’s no accident that the number of silencers registered with ATF has more than quadrupled in the past seven years, from just over 285,000 in 2010 to over 1,360,000 in 2016. Aggressive marketing campaigns have skyrocketed the popularity of silencers among gun enthusiasts, which is why it should come as no surprise that the gun lobby is now aiming to gut long-standing laws that were designed to protect public safety in order to continue boosting their bottom line by making this product even easier to buy.
“If the gun lobby succeeds, our communities will pay the price. For over 80 years, effective regulation has worked to prevent dangerous people — like convicted felons and domestic abusers — from getting their hands on a silencer. Rolling back this regulation would mean that the owners of the 1.3 million silencers currently registered would be able to sell them in private sales — without a background check — at gun shows, on the internet, or in a parking lot. It’s time for elected leaders to stand up to the gun lobby and reject any bill that puts gun industry profits before the safety of our communities.”
- Firearm silencers are currently regulated under the National Firearms Act (NFA), and have been since 1934. Established during the crime-ridden era of the 1930s when citizens and law enforcement were being gunned down at record rates, the National Firearms Act regulated exceptionally dangerous weapons like silencers, machine guns, and sawed-off shotguns. These weapons remain legal today.
- To obtain a silencer, an individual must provide the ATF with a headshot and fingerprints, pay a $200 transfer tax, pass a thorough background check, and register the silencer with the federal government. The transfer tax was created to give the Department of the Treasury the ability to regulate these weapons; at the time, it—approximately $3,600 in today’s money—was an effective way to ensure that only vetted owners obtained registered weapons. This $200 tax has not changed in the NFA’s 83-year lifespan.
- Due to their effective regulation, silencers are rarely trafficked or used in crime. However, in the uncommon instances when they are, the results are particularly deadly. Silencers mask the sound of a gun, changing the sound into one not easily recognized as gunfire. As a result, assassination-style murders become easier, and bystanders may not know to alert first responders. Christopher Dorner, for example, was able to murder four people and wound several others using a silencer in February 2013. A former police and naval officer, Dorner targeted law enforcement officers in what the Police Foundation described as a bizarre act of vengeance—a “gang-style hit” on individuals while sitting in a car. Police were initially puzzled as to why no neighbors heard the 14 shots: it was because Dorner used a silencer. This proposal would pose an additional threat to law enforcement at a time where officer safety is already at increased risk.
- Should silencers be removed from the NFA, individuals unable to pass a background check would be able to obtain these dangerous weapons through unregulated private sales on the Internet and at gun shows.Proponents of these legislative proposals argue that because silencers are rarely used in crime, they no longer need heightened regulation. Law enforcement across the country know that this argument is a fallacy; the regulatory system has been effective in keeping silencers out of the hands of dangerous individuals who do not want them traced back to themselves.
- The popularity of silencers among gun enthusiasts has skyrocketed in recent years. Due to this significant uptick in the demand for silencers, wait times are unnecessarily long for law-abiding individuals to purchase silencers. The taxes collected by ATF for the registration of NFA weapons were $5.7 million in 2008, and increased to over $32 million in 2016. However, these taxes are deposited directly into the U.S. Treasury, with no additional funding appropriated to ATF. The lack of resources at ATF to appropriately handle this increased demand has resulted in the agency’s inability to approve NFA weapons applications in a reasonable timeframe. By providing additional funding to ATF to speed up the processing of silencer applications, we can enact a simple solution that enhances the ability of Americans to acquire silencers in a timely manner while maintaining a regulatory structure that has been instrumental in keeping our communities safe.
To arrange time to speak with a gun violence prevention expert, contact Sean Simons at [email protected].
Founded by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and Navy combat veteran and retired NASA astronaut Captain Mark Kelly, Americans for Responsible Solutions(ARS) is committed to advancing commonsense change that makes communities safer from gun violence. Learn more at www.responsiblesolutions.org and at @Resp_Solutions.