Firearm Silencers Threaten Public Safety, New VPC Study Finds

For Release: Thursday, February 11, 2016

Gun industry is pushing legislation to weaken federal and state regulation of silencers

Washington, DC — A new push by the gun industry to make it easier for private citizens to buy and possess firearm silencers threatens public safety, warns a new study by the Violence Policy Center (VPC). In detailing this marketing push, the study also documents examples of lethal attacks and criminal activity involving silencers.

Silencers are devices that when attached to the barrel of a firearm reduce the amount of noise generated by the firing of the weapon. In recent years, the firearms industry has aggressively marketed silencers as a new potential profit center. In fact, the number of legally registered silencers in the United States has nearly tripled since 2010: from 285,087 that year to 792,282 in 2015.

“Silencers are military-bred accessories that make it easier for criminals to take innocent lives,” states VPC Legislative Director Kristen Rand. “Even though silencers are currently difficult for private citizens to obtain, they have already been used in horrific crimes. Elected officials should stand up to the gun industry’s craven attempt to make silencers more easily available.”

Below is a collage of images used in gun industry silencer catalogs. More images can be obtained in the full report or by contacting the VPC.

silencers combined 2

With the backing of the National Rifle Association and other members of the gun lobby, federal legislation, misleadingly named the “Hearing Protection Act of 2015,” has been introduced in the U.S. Congress. The Senate bill (S. 2236) is sponsored by Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID) and the House bill (H.R. 3799) is sponsored by Representative Matt Salmon (R-AZ). The measure would remove silencers from the list of firearms and accessories regulated under the National Firearms Act (NFA), making them subject only to the same regulations that currently apply to hunting rifles. The gun lobby is also working to remove state restrictions on silencers.

“In their public statements, proponents of the bill would like the public and policymakers to believe that silencers are innocuous devices used merely to protect the hearing of shooters, including children,” the VPC study explains. “But in fact, the campaign to deregulate silencers is merely the latest attempt by the gun lobby and gun industry, in the wake of declining household gun ownership, to market yet another military-bred product with little concern for its effect on public safety.”

Since 1934, the NFA has required that transferees of silencers submit fingerprints and a photograph, pay a special tax, undergo a background check, and obtain a signature from a “Chief Law Enforcement Officer” or CLEO. (In early 2016, the Obama administration finalized a new rule that unfortunately eliminates the CLEO sign-off requirement for all NFA weapons and accessories, replacing it with a simple notice requirement. That rule is awaiting final implementation.)

The study documents crimes involving silencers, both legal and illegal, including the following:

•    In February 2013, Christopher Dorner targeted Southern California law enforcement officers and their families, murdering four people and wounding several others. Dorner used a silencer on his 9mm semiautomatic Glock pistol.

•    In January 2016, Samy Mohamed Hamzeh was arrested and charged after acquiring automatic firearms and a silencer in furtherance of a terror plot to commit a mass shooting at a Masonic Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

•    In October 2015, gang member Xia Lin was convicted of murdering a restaurant owner in Alhambra, California, using a handgun outfitted with a silencer.

•    In March 2015, Robert Dahl fatally shot and killed Emad Tawfilis, an investor in his Napa Valley winery, using a handgun outfitted with a silencer.

•    In October 2015, eight men were charged in a federal indictment in Sacramento with unlawfully engaging in the business of manufacturing and dealing in firearms, including assault rifles and silencers lacking serial numbers.

•    Israel Keyes, a confessed serial killer who murdered up to 12 victims, used a gun equipped with a silencer to kill at least one of his victims in Vermont in June 2011.

In its conclusion, the report warns: “Since 1934, the strict regulations contained in the National Firearms Act have worked to limit crimes committed with silencers. Recognizing this, silencers should remain regulated under the NFA. Making these weapons available to the general public with far fewer restrictions will ensure that their use in crime will increase.”

The full report, including gun industry catalog images of silencers and statistics on the number of registered silencers in the United States, can be found here:



The Violence Policy Center is a national educational organization working to stop gun death and injury. Follow the VPC on TwitterFacebook, and YouTube.

Media Contact:
Georgia Seltzer
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