The oft chanted mantra that firearms are like viruses is patently untenable. Viruses are living organisms—they replicate and perform actions independently. To consider firearms alive, self-replicating and capable of independent action requires an absence of rationality.
Now, to the public health model. It is predicated on education about, then modification and eradication, of a problem. Study should begin with examining history, epidemiology, utility, and a cost benefit ratio.
Firearms are a tool designed to allow an organism to project power against another organism. That holds whether the tool-using organism(s) is a human against a predatory animal, or a group of people against another group of people. They are especially helpful for weaker organisms confronted by stronger ones. Firearms may be used appropriately or inappropriately, but that is based upon the user, not the tool.
Firearms are widely prevalent and that holds whether society accepts them or not. That is clear when we compare disparate regulations between cities within a country, or between countries. Some examples include Chicago and Baltimore in the United States, and criminal and terrorist use of firearms in countries with very strict anti-firearm regulations such as France, Mexico and Guatemala.
Firearms do exactly what they were designed to do, and they do it effectively and efficiently. For self-defense or anti-criminal use, firearms are the quintessential tool which allows a person, regardless of strength or physical ability, to defend against an individual or a group of criminals.
Individuals and groups who wish to see firearms removed from society frequently begin by proposing modifications. None of the modifications expounded by these groups would improve the utility and cost-benefit equation, or prevent criminals and terrorists from misusing them.
That leaves eradication. Those who propose eradication fail to understand human nature. Being human drives us to develop tools for specific purposes. Humankind went from being able to walk to using animals and then machinery to accomplish transportation. We went from charcoal scratchings on rock to print and electronics to accomplish communication. We went from running to throwing rocks to launching projectiles faster and farther to firearms.
Last but not least, the public health model has worked to some degree for automobile safety, and to reduce tobacco and alcohol use. But imperfectly, because the advocates fail to understand human nature. Compulsion goes only so far. Society continues to struggling with the failure of seat-belt laws and mechanical safety devices, and the fact that people too often will not do what other people think is in their best interest. The public health model as applied to firearms issues has also been plagued by misuse of data and fraudulent science attempting to promote a predetermined end. The American people trust the Constitution of the United States more than they trust esoteric statistics.
Ultimately, the public health model fails because the proponents are ideologists, not scientists.
Silencers are in the news, with all manner of breathless fear mongering coming from various outlets. Why? The Sportsmen’s Heritage Recreational and Enhancement Act of 2017 (SHARE) passed through committee (on a straight party-line vote, naturally) and has been forwarded to the House of Representatives. Attached to it is the Hearing Protection Act, which (if successful) will remove silencers from the National Firearms Act and treat them like regular Title I firearms. Not sure what this means? Don’t worry, I’ll explain.
What’s the big deal?
If you are unfamiliar with the backstory on what silencers are & why they are restricted, David Kopel wrote an excellent article covering the history & politics of silencers. To sum up: Hiram Maxim invented the sound suppressor back in 1909 and marketed it as a “silencer.” Here in the US, they are fairly uncommon & if you don’t have the proper paperwork can send you to prison for a long time.
Wait, what? Yep, that’s right – For some reason that nobody can figure out, Congress decided to include them in the National Firearms Act of 1934, resulting in their being treated the same as machineguns, sawed off shotguns, and hand grenades. Under the NFA, a hollow tube with baffles is considered a Title II firearm & heavily restricted: owning one requires fingerprints, a background check, and a $200 tax stamp. Violations of Title II firearms laws are a federal felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, and a $250,000 fine.
With all these hoops to jump through, and harsh penalties, why do people want silencers anyhow?
Despite their portray in popular media, guns are loud. A single gunshot can be up to 190dB – in comparison, thunder from a nearby storm is around 120dB. Both are enough to cause immediate, permanent hearing damage because the sound is loud enough to kill hearing tissue.
Silencers are the gun equivalent of a car’s muffler – they function by taking the exhaust gases of combustion & slowing their expansion, cooling them before they escape the muzzle. The typical silencer is not particularly complex – it can’t be, because unlike an automobile muffler, the bullet has to travel in a straight line. Crude examples can be found made from converted oil filters, or can be constructed of a simple pipe, washers & steel or copper wool, and a means to attach it to the firearms barrel. In a recent episode of The Walking Dead, Rick Grimes is shown with one made from a Maglite:
Silencers have many benefits besides the obvious noise reduction for the shooter:
- Increased situational awareness. By being able to hear what is going on around you, you are safer. You are able to communicate with others &
- Decreased firearms recoil, which means greater accuracy.
- Less noise pollution in the surrounding area, which is especially important around firing ranges. In some European nations they are considered an essential way to reduce noise pollution & are available without a hassle. Glock makes a disposable model that’s around $150 that is available in various countries.
In all likelihood, if OSHA had existed when silencers were invented, they’d be mandatory equipment today.
What caused this Silencer Showdown?
It is only in recent years that use of silencers in the American firearms community has changed, largely due to three factors: inflation, military acceptance & information sharing.
Inflation: When Maxim invented the silencer, Pistol models sold for $5, rifle versions were $7, or around $125 in 2017 dollars. The National Firearms Act added $200 to that cost, effectively banning them from anyone other than the rich – $200 in 1934 is the equivalent of $4959 in 2017. Thanks to the magic of inflation, a $200 tax stamp no longer is the hurdle it once was, and in the last decade silencer, short barrel rifle, short barrel shotgun & other NFA purchases have exploded. Let’s face it, in 1934 $200 on a $5 item was a big deal; but $200 today? That’s a monthly cell phone bill.
Military use: Silencers have been in military service since WWI, where they were issued to snipers & sharpshooters. In WWII, they were found in various capacities from the Welrod Pistol to the Deslisle Destroyer Carbine to Silenced Sten. Vietnam saw a variant of the S&W M39 called the Mk 22 “Hush Puppy” that was used by SEALs for eliminating guard dogs & sentries, along with Silenced Swedish K “K Guns” used by both Special Forces & CIA personnel.
This continued into the modern era. Well aware of the advantages that silencers provided, military units made them a requirement on weapons systems solicitations; in the mid 90s the Special Operations Peculiar MODification (SOPMOD) kit had a sound suppressor for each rifle. When the Global War on Terror ramped up, Special Operations became even more important & capabilities needed to be filled. The M110 was issued as a designated marksman’s rifle, putting silencers into the hands of riflemen.
Traditional media, Social media & word of mouth: In 2010, there had been a grand total of 285,087 silencers registered since 1934. That would soon change.
The internet allowed firearms enthusiasts to communicate from around the world. As such, those with actual experience using silencers, industry representatives & potential buyers were able join together. Information sharing via sites like AR15.com (est 1997), SilencerTalk, (created in 2006), tactical industry publications, & word of mouth allowed end users to become more educated on silencer effectiveness, how to obtain their own, or in some cases make them with ATF approval. No longer was the NFA a mystery, and a niche market was even created to simplify the process by connecting firearms lawyers with clients.
Social media further spread information, from digital photos taken by service members to companies like Advanced Armament Corporation (AAC), Surefire & Gemtech taking part in discussions. These companies leveraged their knowledge gained from servicing military & law enforcement customers into providing better quality products to both law enforcement & civilian buyers. Detailed specifications allowed comparison shopping. YouTube channels like Hickok45 featured silencer use & others explained the science behind them. Industry leading manufacturers formed the American Suppressor Association in 2014 to help educate & reform silencer laws at both the state & federal level; through their efforts it is now legal to hunt with a silencer equipped firearm in 42 states. Finally, large firearms manufacturers entered the market: Remington acquired AAC, SIG-Sauer created their own silencer division, and just this year S&W bought Gemtech.
By 2015, silencer ownership had exploded. CNN noted the drastic increase in silencer sales:
The number of registered silencers surged 38% from last year to 792,282 in February 2015, according to the most recent figures from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. There were 571,750 licenses in March 2014.
Even some people at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives have changed their minds on their being restricted, stating in a whitepaper that:
[T]he reason for their inclusion in the NFA is archaic and historical reluctance to removing them from the NFA should be reevaluated.
The Free Beacon has confirmed that silencers are rarely used in crimes, with roughly 44 instances a year.
“Consistent with this low number of prosecution referrals, silencers are very rarely used in criminal shootings,” Turk wrote. “Given the lack of criminality associated with silencers, it is reasonable to conclude that they should not be viewed as a threat to public safety necessitating [National Firearms Act] classification, and should be considered for reclassification under the [Gun Control Act].”
Even in 2014 the ATF was having a difficult time keeping up with the ever increasing demands for NFA items. Eventually they changed to a 7 day workweek and increased NFA branch personnel nearly threefold in order to try to combat growing delays. Wait times for NFA transfers continued to increase. The existing system wasn’t working, and wasn’t helped by a new Obama-era rule change called 41f that further increased paperwork to be processed – wait times were expected to double. In anticipation of the rules changes, people rushed to get their paperwork in so their purchases would be “grandfathered” – Silencerco reportedly submitted $2,000,000 worth of NFA stamp applications in a single day. If those were all silencers or machineguns, that’s 10,000 applications.
The ATF whitepaper gives an insider’s view:
The wide acceptance of silencers and corresponding changes in state laws have created substantial demand across the country. This surge in demand has caused ATF to have a significant backlog on silencer applications. ATF’s processing time is now approximately 8 months. ATF has devoted substantial resources in attempts to reduce processing times, spending over $1 million annually in overtime and temporary duty expenses, and dedicating over 33 additional full-time and contract positions since 2011 to support NFA processing.
Put it another way: by keeping silencers restricted, it’s having a negative effect on law enforcement, because administration is draining resources. That is money spent on personnel & paperwork and is not spent on criminal investigations.
Things come to a head
Enter the Hearing Protection Act of 2015, which had the objective of changing silencers from Title II weapons, to Title I & treated the same as regular firearms The HPA eventually picked up 82 cosponsors, but was not passed in the 2015-16 session. With the 2016 election under way, it was tabled; Clinton had campaigned on increasing firearms restrictions across the board, and was favored to win.
With Trump’s surprise victory & Republican control of both the Senate & House, there was an opportunity. Donald Trump Jr, an avid hunter, spearheaded efforts to reduce silencer regulations. The Hearing Protection Act was dusted off, reintroduced to the house as HPA 2017. It was then referred to the House Ways and Means Committee, followed by the House Judiciary, where it languished until June, when it was attached to the SHARE Act. SHARE already had strong bipartisan approval and incorporated a number of changes that the firearms community had been seeking for decades.
So let’s talk about the “gun safety” movement & their objections to this bill.
Naturally the possibility of silencer restrictions being eased has caused a panic in the anti-gun movement & media allies. Everytown produced a litany of fear mongering nonsense. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank panicked and vomited forth a massive amount of hyperbole including talk of howitzers & Stinger missiles (which the NRA quickly debunked). The Huffington Post claims deregulation is a ploy of the gun industry in order to combat the “Trump Slump” (which doesn’t exist, but I’ll address that in another article).
Rather than address each article, let’s talk about…
Common Myths Surrounding Silencers
Myth #1: Silencers completely eliminate the sound of a gunshot!
Despite their portrayal in movies & television, silencers do not reduce a gunshot to a kitten sneezing. In fact:
- a rifle with a silencer is still as loud as the operations deck of an aircraft carrier;
- a pistol with a silencer is as loud as a jackhammer.
Even the CEO of ShotSpotter, a system used to detect gunfire in several cities, states that the Shotspotter system can still detect firearms equipped with silencers.
“In regard to gun silencers, it is more accurate to call them suppressors, as they suppress the impulsive sound of gunfire, not wholly eliminate it,” said Ralph Clark, the chief executive of ShotSpotter. “We have successfully if not inadvertently detected confirmed suppressed gunfire within our existing deployments. Although we have not formally tested the theoretical impact to our system, we intend to do some targeted testing in the near future. We believe we will have various options ranging from increasing our sensor array density to developing software/firmware to address the detection of suppressed gunfire if it were to become a widespread issue.”
Despite what some may claim, a silencer will not make a mass shooter more deadly, or hunter less safe.
Myth #2: Restricting them has kept them out of the hands of criminals!
This is a great example of correlation not equaling causation, or the Simpsons example of the tiger-repellent rock. Strict silencer laws have not, in fact, kept them out of the hands of criminals; rather their use is just not given much media play because criminals breaking the law with heavily restricted items goes against the narrative. Examples:
- Ohio machinist arrested with 199 illegal silencers
- Kansas man arrested for advertising, possessing, manufacturing & selling silencers
- Maryland man pleads guilty to possessing unregistered silencer
- Connecticut man arrested with multiple silencers
- California men arrested for manufacturing silencers & short barreled rifles
- Another California man arrested with multiple silencers
- A homeless convicted felon in California arrested with multiple machineguns & silencers
Over a half dozen examples in the last two years, with many more probably not even reported on.
So why aren’t criminals using silencers? Probably because most criminals use small, concealable handguns and adding 9-12″ to the barrel makes them much more difficult to tuck into a belt.
Myth #3: People don’t need silencers, they can just wear earplugs!
First, let’s start with the research: The CDC did a study in 2011 titled, “Noise and Lead Exposures at an Outdoor Firing Range ─ California”. In it, they stated:
The only potentially effective noise control method to reduce students’ or instructors’ noise exposure from gunfire is through the use of noise suppressors that can be attached to the end of the gun barrel.
The common sense approach to a loud noise is to muffle the item causing it, not to expect everyone in the area to be equipped with ear protection. It’s only when that is not possible that additional hearing protection is suggested, which is why cars have mufflers instead of expecting drivers & passengers to wear ear plugs.
Second, when carrying a firearm for self defense, it is not possible or practical to wear ear plugs or muffs at all times. There are over 16 million people with concealed carry permits in the United States, and unknown numbers of people who concealed carry in the 13 states with Constitutional Carry. Each one runs the risk of permanent hearing loss should they be forced to defend themselves.
In addition, wearing ear plugs or muffs reduces safety, not increases it. With hearing protection on, all sound is reduced, not just the gunshot, resulting in a loss of situational awareness:
- Hunters cannot hear other people in the woods.
- A homeowner inside their house will not be able to effectively hear an intruder’s movements – or police commands if they make entry.
- Students receiving instruction have to learn to overcome the blast & recoil, rather than concentrating on form & control.
- The areas surrounding firing ranges have increased levels of noise pollution.
Myth #4: If silencers are easier to get, there will be more criminals using silencers!
While I already addressed this partially with Myth #1 & how guns are still loud even with a silencer attached, this argument really requires a leap in logic to believe.
First, seized firearms figures show that most criminals use small & inexpensive handguns for crime. The Trace was kind enough to provide data from Chicago PD which had inexpensive models from Ruger, Hi-Point, & other manufacturers dominating. A stickup artist is not going to add 9-12″ of suppressor to the barrel of their firearm making it harder to conceal… not to mention doubling or tripling the price.
Second, there were also huge numbers of revolvers present, which cannot be effectively silenced due to the gap between the cylinder & the barrel. This throws additional cold water on potential criminal silencer use.
Silencers are a Public Health issue
Obviously the medical community must have something to say about this, right?
Surprise! They’ve been refusing to comment at all. The silence of medical groups is something that has not gone unnoticed by the firearms community. You’d think that decriminalizing a device that will prevent medical injury would be a no-brainer for medical professionals, but:
[T]he American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians, American College of Surgeons, and the American Academy of Pediatrics not only refuse to support doing away with the outdated restrictions. They won’t even promote the use of suppressors as a valuable public health solution.
Even the group representing ear doctors, the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, has decided officially to refuse their support of both this hearing-saving tool and the legislation that would make it widely available to their patients.
Usually eager to try to force further gun control under the guise of “Public Health” the medical community has been strangely quiet. There are no shortage of articles in medical journals advocating for stricter firearms laws, from background checks to “safe storage” to banning assault weapons, none of which have a proven track record of success at effecting, never mind reducing harm. Yet when it comes to easing access to something that has empirically measurable, demonstrated effectiveness at preventing injury, they have nothing to say.
This, right here, reveals just how bankrupt the “gun safety” movement is.
Spotted on The Firearm Blog, a hobbyist machinist fabricated his own AR-15 lower receiver. Big deal, some people will scoff, “80% lower builds are nothing new.”
Well, this actually is a big deal, because this guy took around 250 aluminum cans, melted them down in a backyard forge, poured them into ingots, and then created his own billet of aluminum stock:
With milling machines & lathes available off Amazon, technology is increasingly available to the end user; there is no longer a giant barrier to entry in the form of hundreds of thousands of dollars of investment in machinery.
Cody Wilson’s Ghost Gunner is merely a simplified version of what the above youtuber did. You can’t stop the signal.
I came across a blog post that I felt was worth sharing:
I’ve seen this image going around again, often accompanied by comments on how expecting women to learn self-defense is unreasonable and ineffective anyway, because men are bigger and stronger than us.
I get the original post’s sentiment. We can’t put the entire onus of preventing sexual assault on the victims (or potential victims), and things will not get better without widespread social change that addresses perpetrators (and potential perpetrators), and the cultural attitudes that make this shit so much more widespread and easy to get away with.
But as we build a better world that is safer for all of us, we need to live in this one. We need to survive day-to-day, and deal with the threats that exist now, and not the reduced ones that may exist decades down the road. And right now, knowing how to defend yourself won’t prevent all rape, but it might prevent yours.
It’s not a zero-sum game. Keeping yourself safe doesn’t put another in danger, and learning self-defense isn’t some betrayal of the sisterhood because another woman may not have access to the same training. If we really want to keep all women safer, then we lobby for cultural, legislative, and legal change on the one hand, and we make sure as many women as possible have access to good self-defense training on the other. There’s no earthly reason to choose between the two.
It’s hard enough for many women to step into a self-defense class. There’s already stigma attached to women fighting, fear of being hurt or – worse – of hurting someone else, and uncertainty about how safe you’ll be in a given school or with a given instructor. I’ve had women show up to my classes that spent a year working up to coming in, because it was that fucking daunting. Let’s not make it even worse by suggesting that wanting to protect yourself undermines the social progress of your entire gender.
Adding onto this, Swimming in Deep Water posted:
Additional points raised from the resulting discussion:
- I don’t believe there are any statistics as to how many assaults are prevented by capable, willing women stepping in to other women’s aid. From anecdotal evidence, it happens. I’ve done it. I’ve seen other women do it. Learning self-defence skills is like learning first-aid in one respect: maybe you’ll need it for yourself or your loved ones, but maybe you’ll end up using it to save a perfect stranger.
- A self defense scenario doesn’t always end with a predator sneaking off to assault someone else. It can end with an arrest or investigation which can actively prevent another assault.
- It is considered not only acceptable but desirable for parents to educate their young children about “stranger danger”. No suggestion is made that this causes someone else’s kid to be molested or kidnapped. So at which age does this change? Is it for a 12 yr old girl to learn self-defense, but not for a 15 yr old? 16? Where is that line drawn, by whom, and based on what theory?
- While any individual learning to defend themselves doesn’t solve any social problems, a critical mass of women and others with the skills and willingness to defend against predators could shift the social balance as well.
- Do women’s responsibility to others always overrides personal concerns, and if so, why?
Both of these are great responses, but leave out something.
Every time I hear the mantra, “Teach men not to rape” I like to point out that dead rapists don’t have to be taught again. I have absolutely zero problems making a sexual assault as painful & debilitating as possible for the attacker. If the lesson proves fatal to the aggressor, oh fucking well.
James Wright’s article about how he was wrong about gun control and why it is doomed to failure, from the 90’s. The years change, but the song remains the same:
Came across this last night:
America’s decades long national argument about gun control is not a normal political debate about addressing policy to problems but about what kind of politics to have. It is fundamentally about how citizens should relate to each other and the state, and that makes it a matter of political philosophy, Politics with a capital P. That in turn explains why the debate has gone on so long without resolution and the division and frustration it inspires.
Of course it is up to Americans to decide what kind of society they should have, not philosophers, and certainly not foreign ones like me. Indeed, part of my argument is that even this most fundamental question must be decided politically, by the people, and not by appeal to the special authority of sacred constitutional principles or social science or even philosophy. Philosophers’ pronouncements of truth and rightness have no special authority over politics, nor should they. What philosophical analysis can do is offer new perspective and argumentative resources by which a political debate such as this one might be improved from its toxic stalemate.
I know what you are thinking. This is going to be a long winded argument about how guns are bad. WRONG!
So what does my philosophical perspective come down to? First a diagnosis. Both sides of the gun control debate know they are right. But only one side recognises it as a fundamentally philosophical dispute. The other has systematically evaded the real debate about values in favour of the faux objectivity of a statistical public health argument [See Hunt for a discussion of what the gun control debate is actually about]. Second some positive advice. The advocates of gun control need to take the political philosophy of the gun rights movement seriously and show that a society without guns is a better society not that it is a safer one.
It only gets better from there:
I’m going to have to be blunt. Gun control advocates rely excessively on a public health case that is not only much weaker than they believe it to be but also crowds out the kind of arguments that might actually win over their opponents. Their confidence that they are on the right side of history has blinded them to the fact that they have chosen to fight on the wrong ground. They keep harping on about guns killing people. As if guns were like cigarettes, and as if the numbers were big enough to matter
Guns are an excellent killing technology. They are extremely good at transforming an intention to kill into its achievement. However, that doesn’t mean that they are a particularly significant cause of death; only a particularly exciting one.The idea that forcibly removing guns from citizens would reduce death rates in any appreciable degree is a triumph of moral indignation over statistics. America is not 43rd in the world for life-expectancy because it kills so many people with guns, but, principally, because of the social gradient in health that follows from its shameful levels of socio-economic inequality .
Let’s go into this a little more.
We hear a lot about the large number of deaths caused by guns in America, around 33,000 per year. This sounds like a big number. But understanding whether a number is big enough to matter requires considering it in context. 2.6 million Americans die every year [CDC] . Gun deaths represent just over 1% of deaths, and two thirds of those are suicides. From a public health perspective, many other causes of death seem much more deserving of our worry, and also more likely to yield to government intervention.
So happy to see someone else making the same arguments I’ve been using for years. This one addresses a plethora of typical arguments: Guns vs Cars, Suicide, Mass Shootings, etc. I have to disagree with the author’s “Your gun isn’t going to stop the military” argument for reasons outlined in previous posts, but you can’t have everything.
From the NRA:
Today, House Bill 531 was introduced by state Representatives Hubert Collins (D-97) and Jody Richards (D-20). HB 531 would allow a law-abiding individual, to lawfully carry a concealed handgun for self-defense without needing to first obtain a government-issued license. This legislation has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee for consideration, and your NRA-ILA expects a Senate version of HB 531 to be introduced later this week.
This bipartisan legislation recognizes the right of Kentuckians to legally carry a concealed firearm without the requirement of acquiring a Kentucky concealed carry deadly weapons license (CCDW). HB 531 is a much-needed update to concealed carry in Kentucky, allowing law-abiding gun owners the ability to better protect themselves and their loved ones. This legislation would give Kentuckians the freedom to choose the best method of carrying for them, based on their attire, gender and/or physical attributes. HB 531 would also keep in place the current permitting system so that people who obtain a permit could still enjoy the reciprocity agreements that Kentucky has with other states.
Hot damn if this makes it through!
Edit: looks like this also prohibits employers from banning CCW and allows for campus carry too!