Silencers Bring Loud Complaints

Sunday, December 14, 2014
By Stephen Hudak

Orlando Sentinel

Hunters had reason to celebrate last month when Florida lifted its ban on silencers, but Chuck O’Neal saw cause for alarm.

“If a bullet travels farther than the sound of the shot, it creates a zone of significant danger,” said O’Neal, who lives in Longwood, Fla., next to a woodlands frequented by hunters.

When a hunter shot a squirrel dead in his backyard two years ago, O’Neal said, he at least heard the “bang” before he found the animal.

O’Neal, Seminole County hiking enthusiast Peri Sedigh and Central Florida paddleboarder Timothy Orrange Jr. attached their names this week to a petition challenging the unanimous vote by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission to lift a longtime ban on noise-suppressing devices for firearms.

According to the petition, which seeks to invalidate the rule change, Sedigh listens for hunters when hiking and alters her routes when she hears gunfire. Orrange, who paddles on remote areas of the St. Johns and Wekiva rivers with his wife and 8-year-old daughter, tries to steer clear of hunters, too, fearing stray bullets.

The petition, filed by Orlando attorney Christopher Byrd with the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings, asks an administrative judge to throw out the wildlife commission’s unanimous vote Nov. 21 and reimpose the ban.

In the petition, Byrd argues that removing the ban will add to gun deaths “as the once-thundering crack of a firearm, sending warning to hikers, nature lovers and wildlife that hunters are nearby, will be reduced, muffled or altogether silenced.”

Advocates for silencers contend that the opponents are misinformed.

Hunters and other shooters use noise-suppression devices on their guns to stifle the bang of gunshots to a “tolerable decibel level,” said Joshua Waldron, chief executive officer and co-founder of Utah-based SilencerCo, which has manufactured and sold its silencers as hearing-protection aids since 2008.

“They’re still very loud,” he said, comparing the sound of silencer-equipped guns to a jackhammer.

In the past six years, Florida and 10 other states have amended hunting rules to allow use of the noise-muffling devices, which remain outlawed in a dozen states, including California, Illinois and New York. Neither Vermont nor New Hampshire currently allow noise-muffling devices.

Florida’s rule-change took effect immediately and hunters in the state “wasted no time getting into the field with suppressors,” according to the Facebook page of the American Suppressor Association, where sportsmen posted photos of their kills with silencers the next day.

Waldron said none of those states have seen an increase in hunting accidents, poaching or other issues commonly cited by critics of silencers.

FWC declined comment through Harold “Bud” Vielhauer, the agency’s lawyer.

Proponents of the change in Florida included hunting groups and the National Rifle Association, whose longtime state lobbyist, Marion Hammer, sent a letter to FWC officials in August, urging the wildlife commission to get rid of a restriction that was formally adopted in 1957 “with no legitimate justification .”

However, the attorney who filed the challenge this week described FWC’s decision as “arbitrary deregulation,” arguing that the state’s rule-makers for hunters and anglers failed to provide “logic or the necessary facts showing that the prohibition is not longer needed.”

In the filing, Byrd said the commission adopted the rule change without considering or even reciting the reasons the restriction was imposed decades ago.

He argued the state bowed to the NRA to boost sales of silencers, which can cost as much as $2,000, and to make shooting activities more attractive to Florida’s young people.

“With the increase in gun violence and firearm-related accidents nationwide, these purported reasons appear ridiculous and illogical with weighed against the public’s safety,” he said.