Recent calls for new restrictions on gun sales not only have helped firearm sales soar, but they have also created a spillover effect for a related accessory.
Local gun retailers have seen a jump in sales of gun suppressors, commonly known as silencers. A large part of the reason is President Barack Obama’s executive order aimed at curbing gun violence.
“That is driving a lot of people to go ahead and get their suppressors now because there is going to be a few more rules in place and red tape that they have to jump through in order to own that suppressor,” said Michael Brown, the chief executive of Frontier Justice, which he co-owns with his wife, Bren, in Lee’s Summit.
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Hollywood, which portrays silencers as tools of assassins, misleads the public on what the devices actually do, he said.
“If I were still to shoot a suppressed firearm in public, people are going to hear that it is a gunshot,” Brown said. “It’s not like the movies portray.”
The gunshot noise doesn’t go away — it just becomes quieter. That’s why the gun industry calls the devices suppressors.
Silencers are growing in popularity among gun owners for several reasons. First, there’s the novelty of owning one. But one of the biggest reasons is that it helps protect the hearing of sport shooters and hunters.
Silencers work by dissipating the gases from gunshots, quieting their sound by approximately 30 decibels, Brown said. A gunshot ranges between 140 and 190 decibels, depending on the weapon.
Silencers also decrease the recoil, which increases accuracy and allows shooters to focus on fundamentals, he said.
“I hunt ducks a lot,” Brown said. “If I’m sitting in a blind with four or five guys this close together with shotguns, when we get up to shoot ducks coming in, you can imagine the decibels that are hitting your eardrums.”
If every one of those guns had a suppressor, the damage to hearing would be lessened or eliminated, he said. In that way, silencers especially could help younger people just beginning to shoot.
“They won’t wake up like me someday and be 46 years old and probably could use hearing aids because I’ve shot all my life,” Brown said.
It’s been legal to own silencers in Kansas since 2008 and in Missouri since 2011, and the upcoming changes won’t affect that. Rather, the Obama administration is changing a popular way people buy silencers and some federally regulated firearms.
The change, which is expected to take effect in July, affects purchases conducted through trusts.
Most people are familiar with trusts as a legal entity similar to a corporation that holds assets for the benefit of others. It’s commonly used in estate planning as a way to pass on assets after a person’s death.
A gun trust is similar, except it is created specifically for owning firearms.
Individuals wanting to buy silencers must get approval from a local law enforcement agency, according to a federal law established in 1934. They must submit the approval with passport photos and fingerprints and pay $200 for a transfer tax for each silencer to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
By using a trust, however, buyers can bypass local law enforcement approval and fingerprint checks. The trust still pays the $200 transfer tax per silencer.
A silencer registered to an individual can be used only by that person, not anyone else. With a gun trust, anyone in the trust has been able to use the silencer.
When the new regulation takes effect, everyone listed in the trust will have to submit fingerprints and photographs when purchasing a silencer.
The White House said the number of silencer applications through trusts increased from fewer than 900 in 2000 to more than 90,000 in 2014.
The number of silencers registered by the ATF has grown nearly 375 percent in Kansas since 2011, from 1,284 registered silencers to 6,080 last year. Missouri’s numbers have gone up about 265 percent, from 3,382 in 2011 to 12,366 last year, according to ATF data.
“It’s been a fairly dramatic increase, absolutely,” said Dave Gilmore, owner of J.D.G. Enterprise in Leawood, which sells regulated firearms, including silencers. “There has been a steady increase for the last five years.”
Gilmore, who opened his business in 2007, helped change the firearms law in Kansas after his first transfer of a registered submachine gun was denied.
MoKaN Gun Trusts, based in Lee’s Summit, saw its sales almost triple earlier this year, but sales have started to slow since then, said Brian Marshall, marketing and public relations director.
Kevin Jamison, president of the Western Missouri Shooters Alliance, said that as the novelty of owning a silencer continues to catch on, he doesn’t think the new regulation will prevent people from lawfully acquiring silencers in the future.
“The possible roadblock is that only people with responsibilities in the trust are going to have to submit photographs and fingerprints,” Jamison said. “That’s more of a nuisance than an obstacle.”