Do You Really Need a Silencer to Kill a Deer?

Silencers have their legitimate uses. But hunting Osama bin Laden is one thing; hunting "varmints" is another.

As Goldblog readers know, I believe, quite strongly, that Americans have the right to defend themselves with arms, provided that the aforementioned Americans are screened, vetted and trained by the appropriate authorities. What I'm not for is handing out silencers to gun owners. I missed this Mother Jones piece when it came out, but I think it is worth noting, as frequently as possible, that the silencer industry -- yes, there is a silencer industry -- is trying to loosen the laws that restrict sales of their product:

In 2011, frustrated by the silencer's image problem, (Silencerco CEO Josh) Waldron, along with Advanced Armament Corp., Gemtech, and other silencer manufacturers helped founded the American Silencer Association. Their goal, Waldron told me, was "to get more people and legislators to understand that silencers are actually safety devices and not what everybody thinks they are because of Hollywood."

The ASA and the NRA, which receives financial support from Waldron's Silencerco, are pressuring state legislatures to ease up and let people own and use silencers for hunting. Several states have obliged recently, including Wyoming, and Montana and Georgia are in the pipeline, too. The NRA touts the health benefits of sparing hunters' hearing. It also plays the Roosevelt "varmint hunting" card, arguing that silencers enable ranchers to kill rodents without scaring the livestock.

Silencers have their legitimate uses. I would never want to tell SEAL Team 6, or some other special-forces unit, that they could not use devices that suppress the noise made by their weapons. But hunting Osama bin Laden is one thing; hunting "varmints" is another. Silencers, in civilian life, have an important purpose -- to help criminals commit violent crimes without drawing too much attention to themselves. A person defending his or her home from a violent criminal does not need a silencer. Quite the opposite -- the sound of a racked shotgun (as Joe Biden will attest) is often enough to scare an intruder out of your house, without a shot being fired.

It is true that guns are loud, and that hunters who don't wear ear protection may eventually damage their hearing. The solution is to wear ear protection. No silencer needed. It is also true that livestock can be scared by sudden sounds. But as a person who worked in a big dairy operation for a time, I can tell you that everything scares livestock. And what are the consequences of scaring livestock? Not much. They usually just calm down.

The campaign to broaden the market for silencers is just another example of needless extremism among some gun advocates, and some manufacturers (obviously, the manufacturers are motivated by money, more than ideology). For more on this sort of extremism -- extremism that gives responsible gun owners and manufacturers a bad name -- please read this National Journal piece by Ron Fournier, who outlines the lies and exaggerations of the gun lobby, and then argues that its tactics "undermine reasonable efforts to protect gun rights:"

It is understandable that many Americans don't trust the federal government, especially when the White House is controlled by a Democrat. Some members of Obama's party are virulently antigun.

But rather than serve pro-gun Americans, the gun lobby and its GOP co-conspirators are exploiting their fears. If they overreach and lose credibility with the public, their actions today may be more threatening to the Second Amendment than anything Democrats want to do.
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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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