There is a lot of talk these days from politicians about “common sense gun laws.” The problem is, most of these proposed laws do not involve any common sense.
Today I am writing from New Zealand, which has very restrictive gun laws. New Zealand gun laws were the laws that the Clinton era assault rifle ban was based on, and like most current proposed US legislation, are based on banning firearms by features and by looks, not by any particular logic.
Senseless gun laws are not a new thing in the US. Since 1934, sound suppressors have been restricted in the America. A sound suppressor, often erroneously called a “silencer”, is a safety device designed to protect the hearing of the shooter and bystanders. Like the muffler on a car, it reduces noise to a level which does not permanently damage hearing.
Most countries promote the use of suppressors on firearms. Some European countries offer incentives to encourage shooters to use them. Most of these countries have far more restrictive gun laws than the United States does, but their governments recognize the benefits of such a useful safety device. New Zealanders, who look the the US as one of the last citadels of firearms freedom, are astounded that suppressors are restricted in America.
Hunting wallabies in New Zealand with a suppressed .223 rifle. Suppressors are considered important safety devices even in countries that heavily restrict firearms ownership.
I just returned from a hunt in very heavy brush. There were no open areas and it was so thick that it was rare when I could see more than 75 meters. In fact, I saw number of stags 50 meters or closer that I could not shoot because there was no clear shot through the foliage. I was even closer to a many wallabies that I was unable to shoot. In these conditions, listening is everything, as in almost every case, the game was located by sound before it could be seen. If we had been wearing hearing protection, hunting would have been even more difficult.
At the end of the day, we walked out with a young red stag and a number of wallabies. After shooting many shots with a .223 and a .308 with no hearing protection, our ears were not ringing. Suppressors on both rifles, inexpensive and unrestricted in New Zealand, saved our hearing from being damaged.
Suppressors quiet shooting ranges, keeping noise levels lower for those on the range and for those who live near ranges. Some ranges in Europe stipulate that suppressors must be used out of respect for their neighbors. Suppressors protect hearing. Hearing loss is a huge problem, and a major healthcare expense. While most responsible shooters use hearing protection on the range, it is sometimes inadequate for certain firearms, and few hunter use hearing protection while hunting. Every shot a hunter is exposed to without or with inadequate hearing protection causes irreparable damage to hearing.
I always use hearing protection when shooting on the range. I almost always use hearing protection when hunting, too. Even so, I am often around firearms that too loud for the hearing protection I am using. Certain hunting cartridges create heavy recoil, leading hunters to install very loud muzzle brakes. These brakes, designed to reduce recoil to manageable levels, also often increase the sound of the shot to unreasonable levels. A sound suppressor not only reduces the noise, but also reduces recoil. In fact, the concussion of the muzzle blast from some .50 caliber target rifles with large muzzle brakes has been found to cause brain injury after a high volume of shooting. I will no longer shoot those rifles without a suppressor.
President Theodore Roosevelt fitted one of his 1894 Winchester hunting rifles with a suppressor out of respect for his neighbors. In this way he could target shoot and control pests without disturbing those who lived nearby.
Young Red Stag harvested with a suppressed rifle. Suppressors in New Zealand cost as little as $200 each, save thousands in healthcare costs for hearing loss, and do not contribute to any increase in crime.
So why is America one of the only places in the world where sound suppressors are restricted? It makes no more sense today than banning mufflers on cars. President Theodore Roosevelt fitted one of his 1894 Winchester hunting rifles with a suppressor out of respect for his neighbors. In this way he could target shoot and control pests without disturbing those who lived nearby.
Long ago in America, commercial hunting was widespread. Even after laws were passed curtailing it, commercial hunters shot waterfowl and deer for sale to restaurants and some grocery stores. During the depression, many people who were looking for a source of income turned to commercial poaching. At a time when people were heavily hunting for food, this additional pressure of poaching for commercial sale threatened wildlife populations. Many commercial poachers used quit .22 caliber rifles to avoid detection by wildlife enforcement officers. A few of these commercial poachers had rifles fitted with suppressors. In a misguided attempt to prevent commercial poaching, suppressors were restricted by federal law, and several states enacted their own laws as well. Of course, this had no effect on commercial poaching, and only the end of the depression and restricting the commercial sale of wild game made a difference.
Restricting suppressors, of course, has no effect on crime. Suppressors require precision work to be done to the host firearm, and add cost. Many criminal prefer inexpensive, simple firearms. Any criminal who was willing to go through the effort could have a suppressor illegally, since they are simple to construct, and can be installed on a firearm by anyone with the right tools and knowledge. The fact that they are not used in crimes shows that removing restriction on ownership will also have no effect on crime.
So now we are left with one of the most ridiculous restrictions on firearms; a restriction on a safety device. If we need some common sense firearms laws, how about protecting our hearing and removing the restrictions on sound suppressors?
At the end of the day, we walked out with a young red stag and a number of wallabies. After shooting many shots with a .223 and a .308 with no hearing protection, our ears were not ringing.