Our most recent video on Suppressors has generated a lot of comments, and some folks have asked for a transcript so they can pull some of the data. I’m including that below, and adding links to some more information.
Guns are loud. They’ve been loud since their early development the 1400s, but after about 500 years of really loud guns, HP Maxim developed the first firearm silencer – at the same time that he was designing the first automobile mufflers – and he began selling them in 1902.
The tubular canister contains the expanding gasses leaving the barrel, and internal baffles slow them down so they leave the muzzle more slowly and quietly, just like a car muffler. But unlike a muffled car, a suppressed firearm is still very loud! The only reason to call this a silencer is because that’s what’s on Maxim’s 1909 patent; suppressor is a better name. Most “silenced” firearms still require hearing protection. That being said, it definitely makes it more pleasant to shoot. Less blast and recoil, and less noise for the neighbors.
So why doesn’t everyone have suppressors? Well, there are some pretty big legal hurdles to getting one. Thanks to the National Firearm Act of 1934, you have to fill out a considerable amount of paperwork, submit your photo and fingerprints to the federal government, buy a $200 tax stamp, and then, before you can have your suppressor, wait for the BATF to process that paperwork and add you a permanent firearm registry, which takes them 6 months to a year.
It’s almost quicker and easier to just move, to New Zealand, France, Norway, or any of the other countries where suppressors are just another over-the-counter accessory. Almost every European country restricts suppressors less than we do, even though they have way stricter firearms laws… so this begs the question. How did we freedom-loving Americans end up making this tiny metal tube as vilified and hard to get as a machine gun?
THOMPSON AND PROHIBITION
Let’s go back to 1916, when General John Thompson began developing a small machine gun for soldiers engaged in the brutal trench warfare of WWI. But by 1921, when Auto-Ordinance put the Thompson Submachine gun into production, WWI was over, and the finished product cost $200, which was outrageously expensive at the time. For context, pump action shotguns and lever action rifles cost 20 to 30 bucks, so it was very hard to find buyers… outside of Hollywood anyway.
The Tommy gun became ubiquitous on the silver screen. Gangster movies ruled the box office, and the Chicago typewriter ruled movie gangsters. In almost every film Cops and crooks engaged in drawn-out machine gun battles that demolished entire neighborhoods, but in real life, the Thompson was just barely selling. 15,000 Thompsons had been made in 1921, and Auto-ordinance didn’t sell through that stock until WWII was heating up almost two decades later.
But let’s get back to the 20s, when movies were defined by the Tommy Gun, and real life was defined by Prohibition, an entire decade of the Federal Government doubling down on bad laws that hurt private citizens and helped criminals.
The war on booze helped criminals like Al Capone get so incredibly wealthy that his goons could afford Thompsons and some of his gang definitely used them in commission of crimes, incredibly infamous crimes like the St Valentine’s Day massacre, where they killed seven members of a rival Chicago gang.
And the depression-era gangs that came after Prohibition were even more sensational. John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd, Bonnie and Clyde all used automatic weapons to rob banks in the mid-thirties, and they sold hundreds of thousands of papers. The public loved and hated them, and the government decided it had to do something.
THE 1934 NFA BILL
In April of 1934, FDR’s Attorney General brought the National Firearms Act before Congress, and urged its immediate passage. It was a drastic bill, which claimed that it would prevent criminals from having or using dangerous guns, but of course, it was just a mess of red tape, oversight, and taxes that criminals would ignore, officials would misuse and regular citizens would fear.
For context, FDR’s administration was creating new government agencies right and left at this point, and radically expanding the scope and authority of existing agencies, especially the Department of Justice. His Attorney General, Homer Cummings, had a gigantic vision for the transformation of the federal government.
Fortunately, he wasn’t able to get everything on his 12 point program accomplished, but his National Firearms Act did pass, adding regulations to machine guns, sawed off shotguns, short-barreled rifles, and silencers. It’s a short bill, but the discussion of that legislation in congressional committee is very interesting. I’m linking to the transcript below so you can read it for yourself. It actually sounds very, very familiar. There are four points in particular that remind me of modern gun control efforts.
First, a false sense of urgency, driven by media misinformation and horrific fringe cases. In this case, the murders committed the barrow gang and the Dillinger gang. But in 1934 those gangs have already committed murder and are actively being hunted by lawmen with shoot-to-kill orders. This bill to make them MORE criminal had no effect on those cases, and even if it had been passed years prior, it still would have had no effect, since Dillinger stole his Thompsons from a police station, and Barrow stole his BARs from nation guard armory.
But, because those gangs were in the papers in the spring, new gun laws have to get pushed in the spring, and that resulted in some very Hastily-constructed legislation that was being very, very rushed. Which brings me to the second point:
Second, legislation enacted by technically-ignorant legislators. The original bill, as brought by the DOJ, is a trainwreck of firearm ignorance. One example, the bill’s original definition of machine gun is ANY gun that is fully automatic OR semi-automatic and holds more than 12 rounds, and none of the legislators questioned that language. Fortunately, there were a few experts there to offer testimony who caught some of those things. To be fair, some of those legislators were born during the civil war… but today’s politicians have no excuse for not understanding basic 20th century weapons tech.
The third thing the bill does is removes rights on false pretenses and unproven associations. For example, the Attorney general estimates that there are 500,000 armed criminals in the US, which may have been a good guess, but he does so while talking about the Thompson, and implies they are predominantly armed with Thompson submachine guns.
He then talks at length about how incredibly prevalent machine guns are amongst the vast criminal classes, but then later he points out that only one company actually makes machine guns, and there have been very few sales, so banning it would not inconvenience very many voters, I mean citizens. Well, which is it?
Also, this bill groups weapons together with no good definitions or reasons. For example, because some gangsters have murdered each other with sawed-off shotguns, the Department of Justice assumes that a short-barreled rifle is equally likely to be used in a crime. Really? And because short shotguns have been used in crimes they can’t have legitimate uses?
Which reminds me, we were talking about silencers. The legislators do NOT talk about silencers – at all. There is no justification for including silencers in the NFA list whatsoever. Now, I’d always read that the reason for silencer restrictions was poaching. During the great depression, people were literally starving, and presumably the amount of out-of-season hunting had gone up. It’s generally accepted today that silencers were added to the NFA to stop poor folks from eating the king’s deer, but congress NEVER discusses this at all. In fact, the only time they even mention silencers is when they read the part of the bill that mentions restricting them. The Department Of Justice doesn’t mention if they’ve been used in crimes, how they work, what they do, what they might do, or ANYTHING. It’s just assumed that they should be lumped in with everything else and banned.
Well, not banned, of course. Just regulated. The fourth thing this bill does is sidestep the constitution and Second Amendment with sketchy loopholes. This the legislators DID discuss. And the attorney general did admit, when pressed, that a gun BAN would absolutely be unconstitutional. But this is not a ban, this is mere regulation. All you have to do is send in all your personal info, two sets of photos and fingerprints, get written permission from your chief of police or sheriff, wait for the Federal government to enter you and your purchase in a massive and permanent gun registry, and of course, buy that $200 tax stamp.
And it should be noted that the justification for a $200 tax is that the Thompson cost $200. That number is set by the worst selling, most expensive, and most statistically irrelevant gun on the market.
Remember that in 1934, that $200 was worth $3870 in 2019 money. This was not some small fee to help the Feds pay for maintaining that national gun registry, but a gigantic barrier to entry. A deliberately huge obstacle for anyone wanting any of the items on this list. This is the very middle of the great depression, and the Department of Justice has the audacity to suggest that a $200 tax on a $20 shotgun – a 1000% percent tax – somehow doesn’t infringe on anyone’s rights to keep and bear arms. That a tax amounting to nearly a month’s wages (average 1934 net income: $3,125.42), doesn’t prevent law-abiding citizens from buying the tools to defend themselves from those 500,000 gangsters.
Ironically, the gangsters that started the machine gun panic that produced this bill were some of the few Americans who could actually afford to pay this tax. One Tommy gun plus one tax stamp was about the cost of a new car, which was nothing to Al Capone. And remember, this tax is supposedly being levied to prevent criminals from getting guns. Because if the Department of Justice learned anything from Capone it’s that gangsters are really, really good at following tax laws.
But worse than that, the original version of the National Firearms Act was written to “regulate” all handguns with the exact same restrictions as machine guns. At this point in the discussion this tax isn’t just for incredibly rare weapons like the Thompsons, it’s every single firearm on the market that’s not a long-barreled rifle or shotgun. We’re talking about A $200 tax on a $5 revolver.
Fortunately, that was a bridge too far for many of the legislators. They could see that this gigantic tax was ridiculously restrictive to the average voter, I mean citizen. And the idea of keeping people from getting the most common and most useful self-defense weapons, especially during a “crime wave,” would cost them a lot of votes. And possibly citizens. So, they removed handguns from the list, but everything else stayed, and in June of 1934 the NFA became law.
THE NFA TODAY
Fast forward 85 years until today. The NFA is still on the books, with a few minor changes over the decades, and it has definitely discouraged law-abiding citizens from buying the items on the list… but less so over time, since the American dollar has been significantly devalued. Today that $200 tax stamp is… let me do the math here … only $200 in 2019 money. Adding that to a $400 suppressor is a little less financially debilitating. And so BATF reports show that the purchase and registration of silencers has been on a pretty rapid increase in the last decade.
I’m guessing there are at least 1.5m NFA-registered suppressors on the books by mid-2019. For context, that means there’s more cans in America than electric cars, they’re louder, and they kill fewer people. (There are 1.1 million electric vehicles on the road, they’re 60-70db, and they cause 17-25 deaths per year. In contrast, there are 1.5 million registered suppressors, they’re 100-140db, and they are involved in 6-18 deaths per year).
The BATF has pursued an average of 44 silencer crimes per year for the last decade, and most of those are registration violations, not shootings. Even if all of these alleged crimes led to a conviction, which the majority don’t, and even if they all involved an NFA REGISTERED silencer, which the majority don’t, then the conviction rate of silencer owners would still only be 0.003%.
For context, 10 of our last 955 federal legislators have been convicted of felonies, so that’s a conviction rate of over 1%. Silencer owners are one of the most law-abiding demographics in the world, and silencers themselves are almost never involved in crimes.
And even the BATF noticed this. In early 2017 Associate Deputy Director Ronald Turk asked Congress to deregulate silencers because they incur a considerable amount of paperwork and are “very rarely used in criminal shootings.” Republican legislators prepared the Hearing Protection Act to do just that. But then in late 2017 a gunman murdered 58 people on the Vegas strip, and the Republicans suddenly pretended that they’d never heard of the Hearing Protection Act. The shooter didn’t own or use a silencer, but it was still the end of the discussion on deregulating silencers.
VIRGINIA BEACH SHOOTING AND RESPONSE
And just a few weeks ago, a disgruntled city employee murdered 12 of his colleagues in their Virginia Beach government building. Details on the shooter and the shooting are extremely sparse, but he allegedly had a silencer on one of his two guns. The official BATF report didn’t mention it, but local Police Chief did, once. If there was a silencer, it was already banned in that entire city, and in that gun-free building, but never mind that.
Bob Menendez, the senior Senator from NJ, has immediately introduced a new bill that would ban suppressors entirely. And by the way, Bob Menendez is not one of the felons; the Department Of Justice dropped all the charges of fraud and bribery that he was indicted on, so he can keep making laws, and let’s just focus on his bill.
It’s not a regulatory bill this time – it’s a full ban plus a giant tax bill to pay for the buyback and confiscation of almost all 1.5 million registered legal suppressors. Cops and former cops can keep theirs. It’s not very well thought-out law, but they’ve gotta push it now while Virginia Beach is still in the headlines!
And remember how 1920s Hollywood made America believe that gangsters and G-men were just constantly shooting up neighborhoods with infinite Tommy guns? In the same way, modern Hollywood has made America believe that silencers are… silent. Perfect for stealthy shootings in public places. According to the movies, Silencers are so stealthy that you can have a full-on gunfight in a crowd without anyone even noticing.
In reality, guns are really, really loud, and most suppressors can only quiet them down to really loud. Out of all of these very effective cans, this is the only one I’d ever use without hearing protection. That’s .22 long rifle. It’s already pretty quiet even without the can because it’s a tiny bullet with not much propellant. It’s the classic assassin gun if you are assassinating rabbits. Everything else on the table here is painfully loud. Jackhammer loud. A jackhammer is not a good ninja assassin stealth weapon. Also, when the can captures most of the blast, it also captures most of the heat. It gets very hot very fast, hot enough to scorch and burn: not great for assassins on the move.
And ultimately, very few gun crimes would benefit from being slightly quieter, as demonstrated by the fact that silencer crime is so incredibly rare. Don’t tell anyone this, but DIY silencers are cheaper and easier to get than even Hollywood thinks, and criminals STILL almost never use them. But I guess legislators would rather watch movies than read crime reports, and Hollywood has made the silencer a magical tool of movie murderers for decades.
It doesn’t matter what the actual statistics are, it doesn’t matter what reality is, it doesn’t matter that a deputy director of the BATF recommended suppressors be deregulated – one single event with an alleged suppressor can validate hundreds of fictional stereotypes and create a national emergency.
President Trump Administration’s has already stopped the Supreme court from considering an important case on Suppressor ownership.
Kettler Versus United States had been appealed to the Supreme Court and was on its way to being heard this month, when the Department of Justice sent a letter, making the case that the Second Amendment does NOT protect silencers, so don’t even hear this case. The reasons were primarily two preceding cases: United States versus Miller, and District of Columbia versus Heller.
US v. Miller was 1939 case involving a short-barreled shotgun. The supreme Court did uphold and affirm that the right to keep and bear arms COULD NOT be infringed by the government. Period. They further recognized that the entire purpose of the Second Amendment is to make sure that a citizen’s militia would have the military arms necessary to resist invasion and tyranny.
However, they ruled that it is totally OK to infringe on the ownership of sawed off shotguns because the Second Amendment only protects military weapons. Since no military of the time was using shorty shotguns, they’re not a military item and thus not protected by the Second Amendment.
Now I’m not a lawyer, but since suppressors ARE heavily used by many militaries, wouldn’t a logical application of US v. Miller mean that Suppressors ARE protected by the 2nd amendment?
Then there’s DC v. Heller, which ALSO affirms the Second Amendment but then states that “the Second Amendment does not protect those weapons not typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes.” I don’t recall seeing that caveat in the actual bill of rights, but anyhow, there’s a whole bunch of suppressors possessed by military guys plus another 1.5 million possessed by law-abiding civilians, and according to the BATF, 99.997% of the time that’s for lawful purposes. How many million suppressors do we the people need to own before they become “typical?” And with only 44 crimes per year, how are lawful purposes NOT typical?
And remember, very very few of those few of those 44 prosecuted crimes are violence with silencer – lots of them are just bad guys caught with unregistered silencer, or in the case of Kettler V. US, good guy arrested with unregistered silencer after a paperwork misunderstanding.
How many of these alleged 44 crimes per year are innocent paperwork mistakes that get good guys thrown in prison? We don’t know, but we know that when it DOES happen, it’s because 85 years ago the Department Of Justice added suppressors to the NFA with no justification whatsoever. And today, the fact that the NFA gets innocent men classified as criminals is cited as a justification to keep it on the books.
Most these silencers crimes are crimes in the same way that Prohibition suddenly defined almost 50% of Americans as criminals. But at least the government recognized that prohibition had been a mistake… after thirteen years. Thirteen years of increased murder, increased taxes, increased drinking, skyrocketing corruption, incredible hypocrisy, and, 10,000 deaths caused by deliberate federal poisoning efforts.
So Prohibition was ended. The NFA, on the other hand, apparently cannot be rescinded, or even questioned by the courts. Because regardless of reality, politicians just don’t like cans. Why do our politicians seem hell-bent on demonizing silencers right now? I think HL Menken figured it out. He lived through the 20s and had a front row seat to the entire prohibition debacle, and he wrote that “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”
Now, let’s be honest. Suppressors CAN make criminals more deadly. There absolutely are certain situations in which a quieter weapon would give a murderer an advantage. And putting a can on a firearm reduces the recoil and makes it more comfortable to shoot. It makes the gun more controllable, which criminals would benefit from, but only because everyone can benefit from this.
When SWAT teams breach houses with explosives and then run in with suppressed weapons, the cans aren’t for stealth. They make it easier to for the cops to control their weapons, use them safely, maintain environmental awareness in enclosed spaces or darkness, communicate with one another better, and be more effective in their work. It’s not just about quiet.
There’s a whole bunch of upsides to letting private citizens have suppressors. In a home-defense situation, I want some of those same advantages that the SWAT guys want. And when you’re on the range, they’re great. They’re not hearing safe, but they are far less damaging. I have to wear hearing protection (shoot), but the people sitting over there don’t have to. And things are much quieter for the neighbors. This even catches a bunch of carbon and lead so it can be disposed of properly. Everybody benefits.
And there’s also a lot of upsides to letting private companies develop suppressors for a wider market. This is the CGS Siren, a 22 suppressor made of carbon fiber, with aluminum baffles. A very specialized new carbon weave and resin makes this can incredibly light, and it handles heat well. Also, it doesn’t have the same resonance of a metallic can, which is cool.
It’s only in the last few years that the market for cans has grown enough to support some new R&D, like 3d printed suppressors made out of titanium, or materials from the aerospace industry like Inconel. But it’s happening in very small and very slow steps, partly because the market is forcibly kept small, and partly because it takes so incredibly long to actually get your own cans. Would you buy a cutting edge piece of tech like this if you knew that you couldn’t use it for six months or a year?
The NFA tax and BATF waiting list put a big damper on research and development that could benefit not just suppressors, but could help bring new manufacturing technologies and material science to a whole bunch of new areas. Scientific progress and technical achievements are always driven by crosspollination and overlap when someone takes a piece of technology developed for one area and bring it to another area or to a wider market or mixes two inventions together.
Remember that the original Maxim Silencer was invented in conjunction with car mufflers, and Maxim’s research on the two separate products benefited the opposite. And this is the Maxim 9, a SilencerCo product that is a pistol and suppressor that have been designed around one another. This is a very interesting platform, which could be the stepping stone to the handgun of the future, but it was also a super expensive and risky move which, at this point, is just as likely to kill SilencerCo as a company.
The small businesses that make cans today have gone out on a limb to bring new innovations to this hundred year old invention. And it’s frustrating to have all this research and experimentation with high tech materials, and new fluid dynamics simulations being artificially limited by completely arbitrary rules and regulations.
But the real impact of these arbitrary rules is far more sinister. When politicians debate silencers and do this hypothetical cost-benefit analysis of whether an unknown percentage of criminals having quieter guns outweighs an unknown percentage of gun-owners having hearing loss – that completely misses the point. This conflict isn’t about imaginary assassins having magic weapons vs. firearm hobbyists having fun toys, it’s about control.
And before you say “think of the children,” let me tell you that I’m not making this video because I just got a new suppressor. I’m making this video because my wife and I just had our third child (and we only had to wait 9 months, faster than some BATF paperwork). We are very much thinking about our children and about protecting our children’s future.
The real cost-benefit analysis is this: do we want our kids to live in a world where criminals MIGHT find it easier to obtain suppressors, or a world where the government WILL arbitrarily punish law-abiding citizens for having them? Where our representatives increase the power of the state and decrease the power of their constituents on a whim? Where freedoms get randomly and erratically banned because politicians just personally don’t like them?
And remember that we’re not even talking about a weapon. We’re talking about an accessory, specifically the accessory that has been used in fewer crimes than any other firearms accessory in the history of gunpowder. We’re talking about banning the accessory that offers the least useful benefit to violent criminals, and significant health benefits to lawful users. We’re talking a ban that will inconvenience the most law-abiding group of peoples in the country and have no effect on actual murderers.
And more importantly, both this potential ban AND the current NFA restrictions set a bad legal precedent. These restrictions do significant damage to our nation’s attitude towards the second amendment. Here at T.Rex Arms, we agree with the underlying presupposition of US V. Miller: The Second Amendment is all about giving military capacity to individual private citizens.
We agree with our nation’s founders, who firmly believed that ALL men are endowed by their Creator with rights and responsibilities, and the right to self-defense is undeniable. The responsibility to protect yourself, your family, and your country is non-negotiable.
Now, this little metal tube doesn’t actually have a big effect on the protection of the country. But laws that ban this little metal tube sure do. In 1934, Congress was very cautious about violating the Second Amendment and looked for an end run around it. Today, its members are perfectly willing to throw out the entire bill of rights that they have sworn to uphold.
We need hold them to their oaths of office. The good news is, it’s not the 20s anymore. Er, not the 1920s. We don’t have to be educated by Hollywood anymore. We don’t have to wait for the newspapers to tell us what’s going on. We don’t have to let elected officials tell us what to think. We have more access to data, more access to the truth, and greater ability to proclaim that truth, even in long boring videos like this. We can push back against lies, quislings, and traitors, and we have to. We have to push back against efforts to hobble, cripple and diminish the power and freedom of the people.
Otherwise it will be the 1920s, the worst parts of the 1920s, all over again.