Editorial: Legalization of suppressors is not an invitation to crime

Editorial Board

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad signed a bill into law that will legalize the use, possession and sale of firearm suppressors in the state. After being passed in the Iowa Senate 46-4 and the House 78-21 earlier in the session, Branstad signed the bill in Grinnell on March 31. Suppressors are still regulated by the federal government as well, requiring Iowans who wish to purchase their newly legal fire arm accessory to pass a background check and pay a fee among many other requirements.

This new legalization has drawn some criticism. Many opponents of the law are concerned with the use of suppressors in crimes, and considering the false portrayal of suppressors or “silencers” — as they are so often called — in TV and film, one could easily share their sentiment. However, the reality of firearm suppressors is very different from the picture painted in entertainment media. The common image of suppressors as a tool used by assassins to eliminate their unsuspecting targets with a simple “whoosh” couldn’t be further from the truth.

Suppressors themselves do not silence the sound of a firearm. As the name suggests, these accessories merely suppress the sound caused by high pressure gases escaping from the barrel. They do not completely eliminate the noise, nor do they effect the sonic boom of the bullet as it passes through the air. Instead of the barely audible hiss portrayed in Hollywood, a shooter is simply left with a less ear piercing boom.

This is where the advantages of suppressors lay. By reducing, but nowhere near eliminating, the sound of the firearm, the need for hear protection is lost. As every shooter knows, ear and eye protection is essential when entering the range. However, when using hearing protection, the ability for shooters to communicate to one another is greatly reduced. This can be extremely unsafe when handling firearms.

While opponents of the bill argue that the use of hearing protection is a small price to pay to keep suppressors out of the hands of criminals, they don’t take into account the most important and practical use of firearms: home defense. The last thing a homeowner should have to be concerned about when using a firearm to defend themselves and their families is hearing loss. Firing a firearm in doors can trap dangerous sonic waves within walls and doors. This creates a danger for hearing loss to everyone inside the home. Homeowners who are forced to use lethal force against intruders in their homes should be able to do so without deafening their children.

As for criminal use of silencers, there seems to be little evidence to support such concerns. Firearm suppressors are legal in more than 40 states in the United States and some countries in Europe. Yet, they make up fewer than 0.1 percent of federal homicides. Because suppressors are not effective at completely silencing the weapons, and considering they make firearms longer and heavier, they are not the preferred choice for criminals. Suppressors are also ineffective on revolvers and severely hinder the function of semi-automatic hands guns without an additional piston system in place.

The false portrayal of suppressors in Hollywood has left the public with little knowledge on the reality of these tools. While the concerns of those who oppose the bill are understandable, they do not seem to be based in fact.