U.S.A. –-(AmmoLand.com)- The same person who invented the muffler for the automobile invented them for guns. Hiram Maxim, the inventor, called them “Silencers”. An obvious reason they were not invented earlier is the inside of a gun muffler is more complex than a gun barrel. Early silencer designs were made of mild steel, making them subject to corrosion. A silencer for a gun using black powder would require a significant effort to clean after each use.
Smokeless/non-corrosive gunpowder did not become common until about 1900. At that point, gun mufflers became more practical. Increasing prosperity in society, brought about by technical innovation and the use of fossil fuels, made target shooting more economical for more people.
Hiram Maxim invented the gun muffler in 1902. It was moderately popular. President Theodore Roosevelt owned several and found them useful for target shooting and pest control.
The Progressive regime of Franklin Delano Roosevelt was able to make the interstate transportation and marketing of silencers prohibitively expensive in 1934. There was no clear reason to do so in the legislative record. Placing prohibitive taxes on machine guns, silencers, and short-barreled rifles and shotguns was the booby prize in 1934. The main aim of the proponents of the law had been to require registration and licensing of all pistols.
How states banned silencers is less clear. There was no upwelling of public sentiment to ban silencers. It appears there was a top-down push, perhaps to protect the federal law from challenges. Texas passed its ban on silencers in 1973. Iowa banned silencers in 1983. Wisconsin law banning silencers was hidden in a budget bill in 1991.
There has been pushback. Some states which banned silencers have allowed possession under federal law. Some states have removed their state bans altogether. Texas recently repealed its silencer ban and replaced it with an anti-commandeering law favoring silencers.
Silencers are legal to own in 42 of the 50 states.
The American Suppressor Association keeps track of state legislation. ATF has a good compendium of firearm laws by state.
States with outright bans on gun mufflers/silencers/suppressors are California, New York, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Hawaii, Delaware, and Rhode Island. They account for 8.11% of the land area of the United States. There are ongoing efforts in those states to allow for silencer ownership under federal law.
If Texas, whose silencer reform law goes into effect on 1 September 2021, is included, there are 22 states who do not regulate silencers under state law. They cover 39.5% of the land area of the United States.
The states which offer significant opportunities to repeal bans on safety devices are those which have ceded sovereignty over silencer regulation to the federal government. There are 20 of them.
They are Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wisconsin. They cover 52.5% of the land area of the United States.
Nine of those states are Constitutional Carry states. Several others are somewhat supportive of the Second Amendment. Those states seem ripe for legislation to repeal their state bans on gun mufflers/silencers/suppressors.
The ban on gun safety devices never made any sense.
The records show they are seldom used in crime. Millions have suffered significant hearing loss because of the medical blunder of the FDR administration.
Repeal of state bans accomplishes several things. It sends a message the federal ban is foolish and counterproductive. It removes a potential barrier if the federal law is reformed. It reaffirms state legislatures’ support of the Second Amendment. It limits the possibility for states to prosecute people for possession of safety equipment.
There are only a few federal prosecutions for illegal silencer possession each year. It appears the number is about 30 a year. If people make their own gun mufflers, and state prohibitions are repealed, the danger of federal prosecution becomes vanishingly small, unless the person actively seeks to become a test case, or brags about flouting the federal law on social media.
As with prohibition, when the public ignores the law, there is a good chance to repeal it. The ban on gun mufflers, also known as silencers/suppressors, is ripe for public scorn.
This correspondent recommends Second Amendment supporters use the ATF Form 1 to obtain legal permission to make their own gun muffler. Massive compliance is another way to attack the travesty of the federal ban.
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 retired from the Department of Defense after a 30 year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.