President and founder, Standish Sportsman’s Association of East Bridgewater; president emeritus, Plymouth County League of Sportsmen
The Legislature is considering several bills that would lift Massachusetts’ ban on the use of suppressors on firearms in the state. As of now only law enforcement officers, licensed manufacturers, or agents of municipal police training committees are permitted to use these devices.
The legislation -- at least four similar bills have been filed -- would replace the existing ban with a prohibition against anyone possessing suppressors who is not licensed to carry a firearm, committing a violent crime or felony, committing a crime against a family member, or conducting sales or in possession of controlled substances. Violators could be sentenced to up to 10 years in state prison or 2 1/2 years in a jail or house of correction.
The popular conception of a suppressor is the silencer often depicted in the movies -- an extension to the barrel of a firearm that totally silences the sound of the gunshot.
But actual suppressors are used by licensed firearm owners to suppress the sound of the gunshot -- not silence it -- and reduce the impact to the shooter. Most are used at firing ranges and for hunting.
Those against legalizing suppressors argue that criminals would be given an advantage over the police. But suppressors are legal in 42 states, and there is no evidence of those advantages. A 2007 study in Western Criminology Review said the data “indicates that use of silenced firearms in crime is a rare occurrence, and is a minor problem.”
Those who commit crimes involving firearms often possess those guns illegally and are not likely going to pay a great deal of money to install a suppressor. Another concern is that the use by police of ShotSpotter technology to detect gunshots would be rendered ineffective by suppressors. But that fear is misguided because the sound would not be reduced to an inaudible level. Legal gun owners would not approve of a bill that would endanger our law enforcement officers.
There is no legitimate reason to deprive law-abiding firearm owners the option of using suppressors. It is time Massachusetts joined other states in lifting the ban.
Walpole police chief
While we must be respectful of all law-abiding gun enthusiasts across Massachusetts, allowing gun suppressors in our state could adversely affect public safety. The purpose of a suppressor, or silencer, is to reduce the noise emitted from the weapon when fired and to minimize muzzle flash. This accessory certainly has some legitimate benefit for law enforcement and military operations but serves no real purpose for civilian use. As with any public safety policy decision, there has to be a careful balance when considering the private use of a suppressor to the potential risk to the general public.
The suggested advantage of suppressors comes in the form of improved hearing protection afforded users at a range or while hunting, and perhaps the solace it might offer residents who abut an outdoor firearms range. Suppressors may also assist in reducing the recoil upon firing the weapon and improve accuracy. Even with these slight advantages, adequate hearing protection will guard one’s hearing, and firing at gun ranges will continue to occur without suppressors regardless of a law change. Since Massachusetts allows only limited use of rifles for hunting, and shotguns cannot be equipped with suppressors, the hunting argument is irrelevant.
Moreover, the suggested advantages for the individual can become disadvantages for the overall public during violent incidents involving firearms, and hamper law enforcement’s ability to adequately respond.
While suppressors do not mask the sound emitted from a firearm as much as we frequently see in Hollywood movies, they may muffle it enough that someone nearby would be unaware of a shot fired. Some Massachusetts communities even use technology such as ShotSpotter to alert law enforcement of possible shots fired in order to respond quickly and deploy necessary assets.
Since suppressors also reduce muzzle flash, especially in low light conditions, and reduce recoil and muzzle position, they pose an additional threat to law enforcement during critical incidents involving shooters, as it hinders their ability to pinpoint the perpetrator’s location.
Pending legislation to allow suppressors takes into consideration law-abiding people who demonstrate responsibility with a firearm. However, legalizing gun suppressors could diminish public safety protection for citizens and law enforcement when critical incidents involving firearms occur.
Last week’s argument: Should Massachusetts increase its alcohol taxes?
Yes: 79 percent (37 votes)
No: 21 percent (10 votes)
As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.