Mason County News
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Right to Remain Silent
Outdoors Outpost
Wednesday, May 9, 2012 • Posted May 9, 2012

“Shooting is America’s favorite sport, and always will be.” ~ the guy playing Cole Younger in a movie I can’t remember the name of

Leret, my 15-year-old son, and I decided that if we missed going to the First Ever Silencers are Legal Shoot we would probably regret it for the rest of our lives. Or at least for a month or two, which to Leret is pretty much the same thing. The future, to a 15-year-old, means ‘ten minutes from now.’ The distant future means ‘tomorrow.’

So we loaded up and went to Dallas a couple of weeks ago, braving the insane traffic, risking death, dismemberment, and elevated insurance rates, so I could honestly report what it’s like to go to a shooting range when all the guns being shot have suppressors attached.

It’s not unpleasant, is what it’s like.

This shoot, in case you’re wondering, was planned way before the Texas Parks & Wildlife Commission made it legal to hunt game animals with suppressed weapons. So you might deduce from that, if you happen to be a deducer, that sound suppressors for firearms have been legal for some time. And you would deduce right. In fact, suppressors have never been illegal in the Untied States, overall.

Oh, there may be a communist state here and there, such as Illinois, Massachusetts, or California, that banned them for certain guns, or completely. To find that out I’d have to do some research, which I rarely do on the grounds that it’s boring. I will offer my opinion, though, which is free, and worth every penny.

During the 1920s and 1930s, it is generally believed that bad guys, such as bank robbers, were using silencers in the commission of their crimes. But since most generals are wrong, that probably didn’t happen. I haven’t been able to find any proof of it, anyway.

Still, silencers obtained a bad reputation, probably from hanging out in pool halls. So our illustrious federal government, in a effort to be federal, decided Something Needed To Be Done. So it looked into banning silencers. But that was deemed to be unconstitutional, so the federal government did it anyway.

Not really. The federal government was somewhat kinder and gentler about certain things back then, and didn’t violate the constitution overtly very often, the way it does now. But it was a crafty federal government, just the same, so it figured out a way to ban silencers without banning them.

In 1934, a law was passed that required a citizen to pay a tax, and therefore obtain a federal license, to own a silencer. Up until then all you had to do was go buy one. Violation of the law constituted not a firearms crime, but tax evasion. Which sounds kind of harmless. After all, lots of companies still get rich today through the simple method of not paying taxes, and most of the people in charge of those companies usually get away with it. You wouldn’t, of course, so don’t get any ideas.

But remember that Al Capone, as bad a person as he was, what with the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and all, was not convicted of any of his showy crimes. He was convicted, and sent to the brand new federal prison called Alcatraz, for tax evasion. Also bear in mind that Capone was a used furniture salesman. At least that’s what his business card said.

Anyway, after 1934, someone caught in possession of a silencer without a permit was guilty of tax evasion, which is pretty much how it still stands today. Except the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, Explosives, and Hors d’oeuvres, which was established in 1972, has gotten vigorous, and maybe it’s worse than tax evasion, but either way, you don’t want to find out. At least, I don’t.

The point here (yes, there is a point) is that silencers have been legal all along. They’ve just been taxed since 1934, which is silly, but I think the reason for that is so people won’t use them in crimes. Someone who goes to the trouble to pay a fee and wait months for a permit, and get a silencer legally, is not going to go rob the local 7-11 with it. Just doesn’t happen.

Now, all the guns at the silencer shoot in Dallas were suppressed, but it wasn’t exactly quiet. You could still hear the shooting, it was just muted. After all, even at a submarine race, you can probably see the periscopes.

But the term ‘silencer’ is a misnomer. There’s no way to actually shoot guns silently. With sub-sonic ammo you can use a suppressor and shoot very quietly, but there is still some noise. If you’ve seen movies where people shoot suppressed guns, and they sound like air guns, they probably are.

The purpose of the shoot, I think, was to raise awareness that probably 99 percent or more of the suppressors in the country are not ever used in crimes. The bad guys don’t typically own them, because they can’t get them, and wouldn’t use them for crimes if they could.

Alcatraz is closed down, Al Capone is dead, and silencers are still legal, as long as you pay the tax. And don’t sell any used furniture . . .

Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who never races submarines. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or

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