Lawmakers Look to Legalize Gun Suppressors | Off Message

Lawmakers Look to Legalize Gun Suppressors


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Update, 10:37 a.m. on 5/12/15: The House approved the bill today, and added a measure that would make it legal to buy and use suppressors in Vermont. The bill now goes back to the Senate to consider the addition.

First off, those gun silencers you see (and hear go "blip") in James Bond movies? They’re not real.

In real life, the devices don’t silence the sound of a gun. They muffle it to about the noise level of a jackhammer. So gun enthusiasts prefer that they be called suppressors.

“It’s definitely not silent,” said Knox Williams, president and executive director of the American Suppressor Association, an Atlanta-based trade group that represents manufacturers. (His organization formed in 2011 as the American Silencer Association.)

Whatever you call them, they’re illegal in Vermont. But legislators are poised to change that, potentially making it legal both for companies to manufacture suppressors and for Vermonters to use them — except to hunt.

The prohibition on suppressors dates to 1912. “It was an era of bad guys roaming the country being bad guys,” theorized House Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee chair David Deen (D-Westminster).

“It goes back to the idea that they’re something they’re not,” said Evan Hughes, vice president of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs.

The state ban is a problem for General Dynamics, which manufactures weapons and employs 181 people in Colchester and Williston. The company is unable to fulfill a federal military contract with work here because the military wants guns to be equipped with suppressors, a company representative told legislators.

General Dynamics did not respond to a request for more details about what it’s manufacturing and whether changing the law would put more people to work in Vermont. House Commerce and Economic Development Committee vice chair Mike Marcotte (R-Coventry) said legislators were told that the change would provide about 60 jobs in Vermont.

“From what we understand, this would be bringing jobs to Vermont,” Marcotte said.

In hope of that, legislators have included in an economic development bill a measure to allow the manufacturing and transporting of suppressors by companies permitted under the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The House is scheduled to vote on the bill Tuesday. The Senate has already approved it.

While they’re at it, some House members plan to add a measure to the bill to make it legal for gun enthusiasts to buy and use suppressors in Vermont. “It’ll help mitigate noise at gun ranges,” said Rep. Patrick Brennan (R-Colchester). Noise complaints from neighbors have been a problem for some gun ranges, he noted. Allowing suppressors will also make shooting easier on gun users’ ears, he said.

Brennan wanted to put on a demonstration of suppressors for Vermont legislators, but found he couldn’t because they’re illegal here.

If the measure passes, suppressors have a cost. They run from $200 to $1,200, depending on the kind of gun, Williams said. Users also have to apply for an ATF tax stamp, which costs $200.

Vermont would hardly be on the cutting edge. Thirty-nine states allow them, said Williams.

The amendment the House is expected to consider Wednesday would continue to ban use of suppressors for hunting. Louis Porter, commissioner of the Fish and Wildlife Department, said that’s to keep poachers from using them for stealth.