Shannon Watts: Suppressors Are a Gun Industry Conspiracy

The founder of the anti-gun group says the useful devices are named such in order to confuse people.

The founder of the anti-gun group says the useful devices are named such in order to confuse people.
The founder of the anti-gun group says the useful devices are named such in order to confuse people. photo from breitbart.comweb photo

Shannon Watts, the founder of the anti-gun group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, is upset that the "gun lobby" has decided to use the term "suppressor" instead of "silencer" to confuse members of her advocacy group, according to Breitbart.com.

In this story from thehill.com, Watts says, "Focusing on the name distracts people from the real conversation. They did the same thing with the debate over whether to use the term 'assault rifles' or 'semiautomatic rifles,' and then the whole conversation shifted to 'What are we going to call these things?'"

On that particular bit of semantics, Watts still doesn’t seem willing to accept that the definition of an “assault rifle” or “assault weapon” requires that it be fully automatic—the opposite of semi-automatic. They’re two completely different types of firearms with very different laws for each—namely, assault rifles have been banned from ownership in the U.S. since the 1930s.

Watts also said “the silencers are an accessory to make up for the loss of gun sales since President Obama left office.”

First, suppressor sales have been robust for a number of years now, as advances in machining and materials have made them more effective and affordable to mass-produce.

Second, the Hearing Protection Act, which endeavors to make it easier for U.S. citizens to purchase and own suppressors was in the works well before the 2016 election.

Third, we've reported that the perceived drop in gun sales since the election was a momentary blip that was mostly a reaction to the spike in sales before the election, and things have evened out.

Now, let's get to the suppressor business. The gun industry has been using the term "suppressor" for decades now, since about 1985, according to wikipedia.

The devices began as “silencers” because that was the trademarked name Hiram Stevens Maxim slapped on his device, the Maxim Silencer, which he patented in 1909. As was the practice of the time, many product names featured hyperbole…and the earliest suppressor certainly did not silence firearms. Maxim invented the device in conjunction with the muffler for internal combustion engines, and many of the same techniques were used in both. In fact, in many English-speaking countries outside the U.S., mufflers are referred to as “silencers.”

Today, and for many years, gun makers, firearms professionals, and shooters have used the term "suppressor" because as Larry Keane of the National Shooting Sports Foundation said in the story, "We prefer to refer to them as 'suppressors' because that more accurately described what they do. They reduce the noise of gunfire, but they don't block it. They are simply a muffler for your gun. You hear a car go by without a muffler and it's loud, but you can still hear it with a muffler."

Maxim, an American who became a British citizen after moving there at age 41, is best known as the inventor of the Maxim Gun, the first portable, fully automatic machine gun. He also held many other patents and laid claim to inventing the lightbulb.

Even anti-gunners agree “silencer” is an antiquated an inaccurate descriptor for the devices.

"If it was up to me, I would feel much more comfortable with the word 'suppressor,' because that term is a more accurate description," said former ATF agent David Chipman in the story. He now serves as senior policy advisor at Americans for Responsible Solutions, the gun control group founded by former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.), who survived a 2011 mass shooting.

Since there were few such devices on the market at the time besides Maxim’s, the language that governs them in the National Firearms Act of 1934 refers to them as “silencers.”

In addition to reducing the sound of gunfire, suppressors also reduce or eliminate muzzle flash. Opponents of the HPA say allowing law abiding gun owners to more easily purchase suppressors would allow the devices to fall into criminal hands. Criminals could then use them in crimes, potentially against police, who would have a more difficult time locating a shooter from muzzle flash or from following the sound of gunshots.

We've reported that crime data and studies have shown very few crimes are committed with suppressors and that they are generally not suited for criminal activity, as the devices make even a handgun much longer and very difficult to conceal. They also require a special threaded barrel (with threads matching the threads on the suppressor) or a quick-detach device of some kind to affix a suppressor to a gun—whereas Hollywood would have you believe practically any suppressor can simply be screwed into the barrel of any gun.

Additionally, criminals who commit violent crimes with firearms are not usually interested in being covert and, while prices have come down in recent years, suppressors are still quite expensive, even if a criminal could somehow get around the NICS background check and the currently required NFA tax stamp.

The idea of a stealthy underworld assassin eluding detection because of a whisper-quiet silenced gun is almost entirely an invention of Hollywood and TV.