Iowa last week became the 42nd state to legalize gun silencers, but consumers wanting to acquire them face waits that could last months and costs that could reach $1,500 or even more.
The obstacles, though, haven’t dissuaded interest.
The Linn County Sheriff’s Office and one firearms supply store say they were inundated with phone calls after Gov. Terry Branstad signed the bill to immediately make them legal.
Sheriff’s Maj. John Godar said he has been fielding calls about the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives application process for suppressors and what is required to file.
Wade Puffer, owner of Midwest Shooting Supply in Hiawatha, said the store has had phone inquiries daily about the application process since the bill emerged from a legislative committee.
Suppressors are not as easy to acquire as gun permits. The application process is lengthy because an intensive background is conducted through ATF, Godar said.
The applicant must provide a photo, fingerprints and pay A one-time $200 firearms transfer tax. Between now and July 13, the applicant also must have a local sheriff or police chief sign off on the federal paperwork. That step is later eliminated.
John Ham, an ATF public information officer, said it typically takes about five months or longer for an application to be approved. The background check and other verification is substantial.
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The cost of buying a suppressor can be substantial, too. The costs vary for a handgun or a rifle. Online and at local stores, they range from $400 to more than $1,500. And many guns aren’t equipped for them. If the gun doesn’t have a threaded barrel, then it has to be milled and an attachment is needed, which are two additional expenses.
Supporters of Iowa’s gun silencer law say it helps protect liberties — as well as the hearing of shooters. The bill passed by wide margins in the House and Senate.
But opponents say the muzzling of gunshots could aid criminals and hinder public safety.
Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden said this week he was “extremely disappointed” the Legislature and governor legalized them.
“When a gun is used in the commission of a crime, it is the noise created by the discharge of the weapon that alerts others to a grave danger and prompts citizens to contact law enforcement for help,” Vander Sanden said. “As a result of this legislation, criminals will be able to use guns to commit crimes without the same fear of detection or apprehension.”
First Assistant Linn County attorney Nick Maybanks agreed, saying he wrote a letter to his legislator.
“I hope that the priorities of our Legislature can be modified to at least allow equal time on debating ways we can curtail gun violence and improve the quality of life in our cities to address the rise in violence as is being allowed to debate restrictions on gun ownership,” Maybanks wrote.
Sen. Rob Hogg, who was one of only four “no” votes in the Senate, said he didn’t understand what had changed since suppressors were banned in 1983 — a ban Branstad had signed into law at the time.
Ham said he couldn’t find any uptick in crimes as a result of silencers being legalized. He did find 105 silencers reported stolen to ATF in 2015 and 128 in 2014.
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The Violence Policy Center in Washington, D.C., which advocates for gun control, conducted a study in February that showed suppressors have been used in serious and deadly crimes. The center cited eight cases involving a former police officer, suspects in terror plots, a gang-related murder and a firearms operation where defendants were dealing in illegal guns and silencers.
Puffer said recreational shooters and hunters like the suppressors because they make less noise and improve accuracy — but he stressed they don’t make guns silent.
Doug Wumkes, a Midwest senior sales associate, fired rounds with an AR-15 rifle and a handgun to demonstrate the difference in sound with and without a suppressor at the indoor range.
With the suppressors, recoil was visibly less with both guns and the sound was muffled — but not like depicted in the movies. Even with the suppressors, a shooter might want to use hearing protection inside a firing range.
Puffer said the noise would seem further reduced, but not silent, when fired outside because sound reverberates off the walls and ceiling in an indoor range.
Fast facts for gun suppressors
•Of all firearms applications submitted to ATF from 2009 through 2014, 79 percent were for suppressors. States started legalizing suppressors for hunting in 2009.
•In 2014, over 1.3 million in National Firearms Act forms involving silencers were processed and $31.8 million collected in transfer taxes, compared to 2009, only 75,000 forms were processed.
•In 2013, 494,452 silencers were registered in the U.S.; in 2014, 571,750, and in 2015, 792,282.
Source: Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives