Constable: Bill would make guns safer -- for shooters

  • Since gun silencers have been banned in Illinois since the days of Al Capone, many people have seen them used only by spies and hired assassins in movies. But proponents of a bill in Springfield say legalizing the noise-suppression devices would help protect hunters' hearing.

    Since gun silencers have been banned in Illinois since the days of Al Capone, many people have seen them used only by spies and hired assassins in movies. But proponents of a bill in Springfield say legalizing the noise-suppression devices would help protect hunters' hearing. Courtesy of American Suppressor Association

  • Iowa moved a step closer Wednesday to becoming the 40th state where gun silencers are legal.

    Iowa moved a step closer Wednesday to becoming the 40th state where gun silencers are legal. Courtesy of American Suppressor Association

 
 
Updated 3/12/2015 8:58 AM

There is a gun bill in Springfield that aims to protect Illinois residents from the health damage caused by guns.

But only if you are the person pulling the trigger.

 

Turns out that guns are so loud they can damage the ears of shooters.

"There are a lot of veterans, a lot of hunters and shooters, who have suffered hearing loss," Rep. Brandon Phelps, a Democrat from Downstate Harrisburg, has told reporters who have written about his proposal to curb that problem. Endorsed by the National Rifle Association, Phelps championed Illinois' concealed-carry law that took effect last year.

This year, Phelps introduced House Bill 0433, which would lift the old prohibition against silencers in Illinois. Assistant Republican Leader Ed Sullivan of Mundelein became one of the bill's first sponsors.

We've all seen enough spy movies to envision ninja-like hit men discreetly snuffing out victims in crowded ballrooms with the help of silencers. However, just as bulletproof vests aren't really bulletproof, silencers aren't really silent.

But they do work pretty well. More accurately known as firearm "suppressors," these devices reduce the blast of a gunshot by an average of 20 to 35 decibels, or about the same as earplugs or earmuffs, according to the American Suppressor Association. The cast of TV's "Myth Busters" expressed surprise at how well the devices muffle a gunshot.

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Granted, such a device would make it easier for a gunman to open fire at one end of a school without kids in the band room recognizing the sound of gunshots and bolting into lockdown mode. It might allow a gunman to shoot someone in a parking lot without alerting the people inside the building. The Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence and others have come out against adding silencers to the arsenals of shooters.

Still, very few mass shooters, or even run-of-the-mill murderers, use them. The Daily Herald has written about two murders in the last decade involving guns fitted with sound-suppression devices.

"Most criminals want to be able to conceal their weapons," says Knox Williams, president and executive director of the American Suppressor Association.

A silencer adds 6 to 9 inches to the barrel of a gun, making it harder to tuck in a waistband or slip under a jacket.

Regulated by the National Firearms Act of 1934, when gangsters were competing to be Public Enemy No. 1, suppressors still require purchasers to undergo a federal background check and pay a $200 tax (same as it was in 1934) in addition to a purchase price that can approach $1,000.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The U.S. military, which pays more than $1 billion each year to treat hearing issues in veterans, has spent money on electronic hearing-protection devices and earplugs that let in conversation and other sounds while muffling the extreme blasts of guns and artillery. Hunters -- who want to hear the sound of a buck running through the brush, and need to hear the sound of someone walking through the forest with their dog -- don't want to wear earmuffs and probably are more likely to buy something that fastens onto their guns than fits in their ears.

The House bill and a similar one in the Illinois Senate are in committees now. Meanwhile, the number of hunters and gun owners has hit an all-time low. Only 32 percent of Americans live in a home with a gun, according to the General Social Survey released this week by a research group based at the University of Chicago. Only 14 percent of adults under the age of 35 say they own a gun. The number of American homes with a hunter has fallen to half the rate it was a generation ago, when 32 percent of homes included a hunter.

Even so, hunters' hearing is still the gun-related health issue before our legislature.

"The trouble is, exposure to even a single unsuppressed gunshot can, and often does, lead to permanent hearing damage," concludes the American Suppressor Association.

Far too often the exposure to a single gunshot, whether anyone hears it or not, can lead to a lot of permanent and tragic outcomes. When we finish protecting the shooter's hearing health, maybe someone can draft a bill that makes guns less likely to damage the health of everyone else.

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