By Dean Weingarten
Arizona – -(Ammoland.com)-
Criminal Use of Firearm Silencers*
Paul A. Clark
Alaska Public Defender Agency
Paul A. Clark has done some long needed research on the illegal and legal uses of silencers, and the theory for criminalizing their possession in the United States. The paper was published in 2007. It is 57 pages long, with the last three pages consisting of end notes and references.
The research was prompted in part by the draconian mandatory sentencing for possession of a silencer during a crime. The crime of unregistered silencer possession warrants a minimum sentence of 27 months in prison. If a silencer is possessed during a drug transaction, the mandatory sentence is 30 years; if the silencer was unlicensed, another 10 years can be added.
The paper is easy to read, although it is in a dry, academic, just the facts, style. The dry style cannot erase the numerous examples of legislative horrors that the author casually mentions. A hunter who made a silencer to shoot pests without annoying the neighbors – over two years in prison. An otherwise minor drug case – 40 years in prison.
Clark covers various approaches to the regulation of silencers across jurisdictions. In Sweden, there were no restrictions; in Texas, heavy restrictions and penalties. The data is slightly dated. Most Texas restrictions were removed in 2014, although the draconian federal penalties still apply.
The examination of the legislative history behind the United States extreme regulatory scheme is revealing as to purposes. There were none. From Criminal use of Firearm Silencers(pdf):
In 1934, the federal government began to regulate
machine guns, sawed-off shotguns and silencers by plac-
ing a $200 tax on such weapons to discourage their sale
(U.S. Congress, 1986b:219-220). The 1934 congressional
debates provide no explanation about why silencers were
licensed. Paulson (1996:10) opines that during the Great
Depression, poaching game was thought to be a problem
and silencers were licensed because of this concern.
In 1968 the federal government passed the first ma-
jor federal gun control provisions. Anyone committing
a felony which could be prosecuted in federal court re-
ceived an additional one to ten years if a firearm was used
(88 Stat. 1214, 1225 (Oct 22 1968)). The statute did not
distinguish among different types of firearms, or include
Clark dutifully notes the record of piling on of mandatory sentences for suppressor use without any evidence of necessity or purpose. In 1986, an enhanced sentence of 20 years was added for use of a silencer in the commission of a crime. No reason was given. In 1988, the penalty was increased to 30 years. The reason given was the murder of left wing radio personality Alan Berg in Denver in 1984. It was widely assumed that a silencer had been used, though there was no evidence to indicated this. In fact, the gunshots were reported by neighbors. The enhanced penalty has been on the books ever since.
Clark methodically works at determining how often silencers are used in crime, and whether silencers make criminal gun use more or less likely. His estimates, which are convincing, are about 1 murder per year, and about 2 assaults, with possession during commission of another crime (mostly drug trafficking) the balance of about 30 cases a year, all with illegal silencers. Here is his conclusion:
Comparing the silencer conviction data with ordi-
nary firearm conviction data shows that guns “equipped
with a silencer” are only one-third as likely to be used to
kill or injure, one-half as likely to be actively employed,
and one-half as likely to be used by someone with a prior
Clark methodically works through all the data present on silencer use by criminals, and the legislative history, to attempt to determine whether there is any reason for the draconian sentencing enhancements, or for that matter, for the expensive, time consuming bureaucracy that has been used to stifle legal silencer use and development.
It is a well researched academic paper on the subject. Anyone interested in the history of gun laws, especially United States gun laws, would be well served by reading this paper.
When presented with the facts of silencer legislative history, regulation and use, it is hard to justify any regulation at all. This may be the reason why several nations have either minimal regulation, or, none.
©2016 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.
About Dean Weingarten;
Dean Weingarten has been a peace officer, a military officer, was on the University of Wisconsin Pistol Team for four years, and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1973. He taught the Arizona concealed carry course for fifteen years until the goal of constitutional carry was attained. He has degrees in meteorology and mining engineering, and recently retired from the Department of Defense after a 30 year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.