Former ATF Special Agent David Chipman Testifies On House Bill To Deregulate Silencers, Calls On Congress To Protect Public Safety

September 12, 2017 — Earlier today, David Chipman, a former ATF special agent and a senior policy advisor at Americans for Responsible Solutions, the gun safety organization founded by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Captain Mark Kelly, testified before the House Committee on Natural Resources Federal Lands Subcommittee on theSportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act (H.R. 3668). The SHARE Act would have a disastrous impact on public safety and law enforcement. Some of the key provisions of the proposed legislation include: rolling back an 80-year federal law that regulates the sale of gun silencers; weakening the regulation of interstate firearm transport; weakening the regulation of armor-piercing ammunition.

“This is legislation that purports to help sportsmen and gun owners, like myself, but instead assaults the interests of our nation’s law enforcement officials and threatens our public safety and security,” said David Chipman, Senior Policy Advisor, Americans for Responsible Solutions and a former ATF special agent for 25 years. “In the uncommon instances when silencers are used in crime, the results are particularly deadly. Silencers mask the sound of a gun, changing the sound into one not easily recognized as gunfire. As a result, ambush-style murders become easier, and bystanders may not know to alert first responders. Congress must do more to make our communities safer, not put silencers in the hands of criminals, making it harder for people, including law enforcement, to identify the sound of gunfire, locate active shooters, and keep our communities safe.”

READ DAVID CHIPMAN’S FULL TESTIMONY HERE.

Over the past several months, Americans for Responsible Solutions has been working with law enforcement experts to raise awareness about the public safety dangers of deregulating gun silencers. This week, a group of law enforcement leaders from across the country sent a letter addressed to Congressional leadership calling on them to oppose this legislation.

Silencers reduce the sound of gunfire and mask muzzle flash, making it difficult for people who are nearby, including law enforcement, to identify the sound of gunshots and locate an active shooter. Erasing regulations will make silencers inevitably much more accessible to felons, domestic abusers, and people suffering a mental health crisis. Recent public opinion research commissioned by Americans for Responsible Solutions shows that even gun owners overwhelmingly oppose rolling back regulations on the sale of silencers.

About The SHARE Act

The SHARE Act would have a disastrous impact on public safety and law enforcement. Some of the key provisions of the bill include:

  • Rolling back an 80-year-old federal law that regulates the sale of gun silencers

  • Weakening the regulation of interstate firearm transport

  • Weakening the regulation of armor-piercing ammunition

Additional information about the SHARE Act is available in this background memo from Americans for Responsible Solutions. Act.

Law Enforcement Officers OPPOSE Deregulating Silencers:

  • Law Enforcement Partnership: “Before these ill-considered changes to existing firearms law, the primary target for silencer manufacturers has been military tactical teams who use silencers to confuse the sound of gunfire and confound an enemy’s response to surprise attack. The widespread and uncontrolled distribution of silencers to an unwary civilian population, combined with the sheer number of firearms freely available in America, is a step in the wrong direction and will result in tragedy, including violence directed at police officers that will be difficult or impossible to investigate effectively.” [Letter to Congress, 03/10/2017]

  • Prince George’s County, Maryland Police Chief Hank Stawinski: “Silencers only exacerbate the danger because it makes it difficult for officers to figure out where gunfire is coming from. That by itself in the era of the active shooter is a concern. This is not the moment to change.” [Washington Post, 05/16/2017]

  • Cook County, Illinois Sheriff Tom Dart: “Would it further embolden people? Sure it would, how would it not, part and parcel of shootings is that people are trying not to get caught so now you are infecting something that increases the chances that you won’t get caught” [ABC 7 Chicago, 4/30/17]

  • Wapol, Massachusetts Police Chief John Carmichael: “While suppressors do not mask the sound emitted from a firearm as much as we frequently see in Hollywood movies, they may muffle it enough that someone nearby would be unaware of a shot fired. Some Massachusetts communities even use technology such as ShotSpotter to alert law enforcement of possible shots fired in order to respond quickly and deploy necessary assets. Since suppressors also reduce muzzle flash, especially in low light conditions, and reduce recoil and muzzle position, they pose an additional threat to law enforcement during critical incidents involving shooters, as it hinders their ability to pinpoint the perpetrator’s location.”  [The Boston Globe, 08/04/17]

  • Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson: “[Silencers] Could silence those weapons just like military grade weapons. We don’t need them in the streets of Chicago.” [WTTW Chicago, 02/28/17]

  • Retired Trenton, New Jersey Police Sgt. Luddie Austin: “If we hear the sound of gunfire, we direct our attention to where the sound is coming from.”  [The Star-Ledger, 03/6/17]

  • Kalamazoo, Michigan Public Safety Chief Jeff Hadley: Hadley said deregulating silencers can pose a safety threat to law enforcement officers, and couldn’t think of the benefit silencers would have to citizens seeking to defend themselves. [MLive Media Network, 03/8/17]

  • Augusta, Maine Police Chief Robert Gregoire: “I don’t think they’re necessary for home protection and I don’t think they’re necessary for hunting” [Reuters, 03/8/16]

  • Retired SWAT Commander for the LA County Sheriff’s Department Sid Heal:“Sid Heal, a leader at the National Tactical Officers Association and a retired SWAT commander for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, said he doesn’t support the easing of regulations around silencers and that the risks outweigh the gains.” [NPR, 03/21/2017]

Editorial Boards OPPOSE Deregulating Silencers:

  • New York Times Editorial Board: “If the bill succeeds, ending the $200 tax and the vetting period, silencers will be much more available to the public. Inevitably, they will show up in the hands of the mass shooters who indulge macho fantasies in brandishing the adapted military assault weapons and large ammunition clips available in the civilian market. Before congressional lawmakers give in to the gun lobby’s latest twisted demand, they had better ask themselves why they would want to help muffle a shooter’s deadly deeds.” [NYT; 03/24/2017]

  • Washington Post Editorial Board: “Silencers are almost never used in murders and other crimes under the current restrictive law, but certainly they would be used in more crimes if there were more of them in circulation. And it is the general public upon whose behalf Congress is supposed to legislate, not the tens of millions who participate in shooting sports. Even a marginal increase in risk to the population cannot be justified, unless the harms to the minority from current policy are very severe and there are no means to reduce them other than the proposed legislation. In fact, the harms to shooters are modest — somewhat elevated risk of non-total hearing loss, essentially — and effective alternatives to silencers are readily available.” [Washington Post; 05/29/2017]

  • The Boston Globe Editorial Board: “Silencers, supporters say, protect the hearing of sportsmen. But they don’t actually silence guns, all those James Bond movies notwithstanding. They only muffle them. And the National Hearing Conservation Association recently declared that silencers provide inadequate protection against hearing loss — recommending ear plugs or other protection even when silencers are in use. Lifting the restrictions on sales, says Robert Spitzer, a political science professor at the State University of New York at Cortland and author of five books on gun policy, is really about boosting the fortunes of the gun industry. [Boston Globe, 7/15/17]

  • Chicago Sun Times Editorial Board: “But ShotSpotter is ineffective if shooters use gun silencers, devices that muffle the sound of gunfire when they are attached to a gun’s barrel. Silencers also further imperil innocent people at a shooting scene because they can’t hear the crack of the gun that tells them to get out of the way.” [Sun Times, 01/23/17]

Related Resources from Americans for Responsible Solutions:

To speak with David Chipman or another expert from Americans for Responsible Solutions, contact Katie Peters at KatieP@responsiblesolutions.org.