Sales of Gun Silencers Have Shot Up Nearly 37 Percent Last Year

Proponents argue that they make firearms safer; others say it’s just the opposite

Pistols equipped with silencers, confiscated from drug dealers. Photo: Adrián Mx/Demotix/Corbis

Sales of gun silencers (also known as suppressors) shot up by nearly 37 percent in 2013 compared to 2012, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. These devices attach to the barrel of a gun and significantly reduce the noise the gun makes when fired. In most countries, it's illegal for citizens to own gun silencers, but 39 states in the U.S. allow them, so long as the owner applies for a permit and registers his or her suppressor. 

Here's CNNMoney explaining the sudden hike in silencer sales in those states that permit them: 

Many gun owners rushed to buy assault rifles after the Newtown massacre, fearing that a weapons ban would be enacted. Now, [analyst and firearms instructor Ben] Shim says, those owners are customizing their guns with "a dizzying array of accessories." Add-ons include silencers, flashlights, laser scopes, stocks, pistol grips and rail systems for attaching even more accessories.

Suppressors are so expensive that they can cost more than the guns they're attached to. SilencerCo sells its least expensive suppressor, the Harvester for hunting rifles, for $750. Its most expensive suppressor, the Saker, goes for $1,300.

All told, nearly half a million silencers were sold in 2013, CNN reports, with no signs of the trend declining. A company called Silencero has created a website—SilencersAreLegal.comto help people find out where those devices can be purchased. As Silencero writes, gun silencers have a number of benefits, including preserving a person's hearing if the weapon is fired in close quarters, improving accuracy and "saving lives." Plus, the website points out, it's just your right. 

Opponents, on the other hand, say this is nonsense. Here's Salon

Aside from offering a very expensive alternative to earplugs, what conceivable sporting or personal-defense purpose is served by pouring silencers into a gun market dominated by semi-automatic pistols and assault rifles? If history offers any useful clues, and it usually does, the answer is none. The history of the silencer is a twentieth century tale populated by Mafiosi hits, hidden snipers, and special ops ambush teams. It all adds up to decades worth of “negative branding baggage” that the gun lobby is now trying to scrub away like a used car-salesman winding back the speedometer on a lemon.

If the current campaign succeeds in delisting silencers from NFA regulation, the gun lobby likely won’t wait long before targeting the remaining regulatory regimes limiting the circulation of fully automatic machine guns and even hand grenades. 

The NRA, Salon points out, has long sought to deregulate and popularize silencers. For now, they are still regulated in the states where they're sold: the application process takes about 20 minutes and requires a $200 fee, CNN writes. 

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