July 30–For decades, the closest most people got to a gun suppressor — those metal cylinders that reduce a gun’s bang — was to see one on a movie screen in the hands of an assassin or gangster.
But sweeping gun legislation has made suppressors, also known as silencers, legal for hunting in North Carolina. Law enforcement authorities are now trying to figure out how to shape polices to implement the new law.
Last week, the N.C. legislature passed a far-reaching bill that expands the places where permit holders can legally carry concealed weapons, including bars, restaurants and parks. But the legislation also deleted a provision that prohibited hunters from using suppressors.
Rep. Justin Burr, a Republican from Albemarle and one of the bill’s sponsors, said the language about silencers was originally in another senate bill but was inserted into the legislation at the insistence of Sen. Shirley Randleman, a Republican from Wilkes County.
Randleman said she initially pursued the amendment as a health issue.
“I was initially contacted by some of my constituents,” she told the Observer. “They had hunted for years and had experienced significant hearing loss, which was attributed to the use of the weapons when hunting,” she said. “And then I was contacted by some of the audiologists in my district who also told me about the hundreds of people they examine yearly who experience this hearing loss.”
North Carolina is the 40th state to legalize suppressors, a sign of changing opinions about the gun accessories.
“You can go back to the (1930s), when people linked them with a gangster idea,” said Bill Brassard Jr., the senior director of communication for the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
“The idea in people’s minds of suppressors is changing. Obviously, noise reduction is a big reason, especially when hunting on private land. It’s also a value at shooting ranges. More development can occur around shooting ranges.”
Suppressors reduce the speed of gases that escape from a gun’s barrel, muffling the sound. They can also reduce the amount of recoil.
For hunters, the legalization of silencers means a person can shoot closer to populated areas, without drawing the ire of neighbors. That could open up more hunting grounds closer to populated areas.
“It’s still loud enough where game can hear you,” says David Drummond, the owner of Carolina Sporting Arms in Charlotte. “The difference is you may not get complaints to the police that Johnny’s shooting his gun again.”
Suppressors are heavily regulated by the federal government. People trying to buy them have to apply to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and pass a background check, according to U.S. law. They also have to pay a federal tax payment of $200 and get approval from the county Sheriff.
On Tuesday, North Carolina sheriffs were discussing the ramifications of the bill at their annual training conference in Wilmington, said Julia Rush, a spokeswoman for Mecklenburg Sheriff Chipp Bailey.
“I have traditionally been opposed to silencers in a county as urban as Mecklenburg, where open spaces are limited,” Bailey said in a statement. “That said, I will ask my attorney to research the law and advise as to how much leeway I have in approving or denying their issuance. If the law mandates they be approved, then I will follow the law.”
Bailey said only a handful of requests came across his desk before the law was passed. He has rejected all of them.