The civilian market for silencers has skyrocketed over the past couple of years, when almost 209,000 new silencers were registered in the United States from 2011 to 2012. From 2012 to 2013, about 77,000 new silencers were registered. The bureau has a running total of 571,000 silencers registered in the United States in 2013, compared to slightly more than 494,000 in 2012 and about 285,000 in 2011, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms registry. That is close to double the number of silencers registered in the United States from 2011 to 2013.
Michael Lamphier, owner of Bullet Stop in Graytown on W. Walbridge East Road, has been a gun dealer for 30 years. He has been licensed to sell silencers for the past 10 years.
He has seen a dramatic increase during the past couple of years in the number of people wanting to purchase a silencer, also known as a suppressor. Lamphier is one of a few gun dealers in the area licensed to sell silencers.
Lamphier has sold four so far this year. It used to be he would sell one a year.
The nationwide increase has led to a backlog of about 80,000 applications that is delaying Lamphier’s clients’ wait.
It takes six to nine months from when you file an application to be approved to buy one, Lamphier said. The highest-ranking law enforcement officer for your jurisdiction has to sign paperwork that is sent along with the application. There are background checks by the FBI, fingerprints, photos and a $200 fee, called a tax stamp fee, that accompanies the application.
“It is a serious process. You have to really want one” Lamphier said.
To keep up with the dramatic increase in applications, the bureau is planning to increase staff to process the applications.
Silencers, as well as a number of other firearm type devices, were classified as a firearm by the National Firearms Act of 1934 to help combat violence, even though they do not themselves fire ammunition. As a firearm, they must be registered in the National Firearm Registration and Transfer Record.
Erie County Sheriff Paul Sigsworth said his department has seen an increase in silencer use.
He has already signed a couple of applications this year for people wanting to purchase silencers. “Five to 10 years ago it was very rare to get an application,” Sigsworth said. “We might have had several years pass without seeing a silencer permit” The form he signs is not an approval — that comes from the federal government — but is a statement declaring the sheriff knows of no reason this person could not have a silencer where he resides. He is not worried about the increase they are seeing. “I am not concerned about the individual going through the proper process” Sigsworth said. His concern would be criminals. So far they have not seen any developments where investigations have found silencers were used in a crime. One factor leading to the increase in sales may be courtesy. Those purchasing silencers want to limit the noise of gunfire during practice so as not to bother people nearby, Sigsworth said. About 90 percent of the sales of his silencers are to people for that reason, Lamphier said.
“People can get nervous when they hear gunshots” Lamphier said.
Unlike what is seen in some movies, a silencer does not altogether eliminate the sound of a gunshot, but only helps to dampen the sound, he said.
The other 10 percent: preventing hearing damage. Silencers are helpful in saving the hearing of someone who is a frequent shooter, whether target shooting or hunting, he said.
Ohio has a bill pending that would allow hunters to use silencers. On Tuesday it passed a House committee, a hurdle on its way to a full vote in the general assembly.
In states where silencers are allowed in hunting, sales of silencers are stronger, Lamphier said.
Lamphier, however, is not optimistic it will pass into legislation, saying he does not believe the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and law enforcement will allow it to become law.