The last thing our world needs right now is more chaos. Unfortunately, Donald Trump is still president. Even in the midst of a global crisis, his focus remains where it’s always been: lining his own pockets and the pockets of his supporters.
It’s why his administration facilitated a backroom deal with gun industry lobbyists to lift the ban on exporting firearm silencers, deadly devices more likely to end up on battlefields than hunting grounds. Gun manufacturers will stop at nothing to spread America’s lethal gun culture beyond our borders—despite clear risks to our national security and the safety of our troops still serving in war zones.
It’s no surprise the gun industry finally cashed in on a promise made by the Trump campaign. Early on in Trump’s term, the president and his Republican-led Congress attempted to strip away regulations on domestic firearms sales that treat silencers just like machine guns. But they were stopped in their tracks by an energized gun safety movement.
Even after a Democratic wave took over leadership in the House during 2018, the Trump administration made it clear that it still intended to deliver for the NRA and other big name donors. Silencer sales had already increased threefold by then, meaning the number of silencers in civilian hands skyrocketed from 900,000 at the start of the Trump administration to over 1,750,000 by May 2019.
That wasn’t enough for an industry that—before a pandemic sent many first-time buyers running to gun stores—was in a deep sales slump when it came to traditional firearms. From 1977 to 2018, the percentage of American households with guns in the home dropped by 32%. To attempt to revitalize a declining business, gun manufacturers decided to promote sales of dangerous devices like silencers.
But on May 31, 2019 in Virginia Beach, a disgruntled employee assassinated a dozen of his co-workers using a firearm outfitted with a silencer. The ruse was finally up for gun industry lobbyists who had tirelessly tried to persuade legislators and the media that silencers were nothing more than a benign form of hearing protection.
Bump stocks and ghost guns are two other examples of products that lobbyists have attempted to label as “for hobbyists.” Like clockwork, as more Americans buy these deadly devices, they start to show up at more and more crime scenes.
On September 12, 2017, I testified before a House committee that aimed to eliminate regulations on silencers, putting Americans at greater risk. Having served as an ATF special agent for 25 years, I was equally concerned about the unique threat that silencers could pose to law enforcement. During my testimony, I shared the following concerns:
“In the uncommon instances when silencers are used in crime, 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.”
This administration’s reckless deal to reward deep-pocketed and corrupt donors should be met with a simple question: were any assessments made of the risk of flooding foreign markets with silencers? And will silencers now be more readily accessible to our foreign adversaries and terrorists as well-trained and determined as Christopher Dorner?
A new administration focused on the well-being of Americans and our allies abroad can and should roll back this reckless regulatory gift to the gun industry. Hopefully this happens in a matter of months, before we start to see more stories about American-made silencers being used to cause death and destruction around the world.