President Donald Trump said in an interview on Wednesday that he is going to "seriously look at" banning silencers in the wake of one of the devices being recovered at a shooting where 12 people were murdered in Virginia Beach.
In an interview on British television with longtime gun-control activist Piers Morgan, Trump was asked about his view on silencers.
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"I don't like it. I don't like it," Trump said of the devices, which reduce the sound of gunshots but don't actually silence them.
"Would you like to see those banned?" Morgan asked.
"Well, I'd like to think about it," Trump said. "Nobody's talked about silencers very much. They did talk about the bump stock and we had it banned. And we're looking at that. I'm going to seriously look at it. I don't love the idea of it. I don't like the idea. What's happening is crazy, okay? It's crazy."
In 2017, Trump directed the Department of Justice and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives to unilaterally redefine bump stocks as illegal unregistered machineguns. His policy made it effectively illegal to possess the devices even if they had been legally purchased and provided no compensation for the destruction of the devices. The ban and confiscation effort garnered little praise or satisfaction from gun-control advocates. And while the National Rifle Association supported the effort to reclassify the devices with caveats about its enforcement, it was met with legal challenges from gun-rights advocates that are still pending.
Silencers, often called suppressors by those in the industry, can reduce the sound of gunshots from levels instantly damaging without hearing protection to levels closer to that of a jackhammer or jet engine. Despite depictions in movies and other entertainment media, the devices do not make the gunshots inaudible.
Under current federal law, silencers are strictly regulated in the same way machineguns and short-barreled shotguns are regulated. Anyone looking to legally purchase a silencer must pay a $200 tax, pass a background check, and register it with the federal government. A handful of states had also completely banned the devices.
Still, records from the ATF show 1,489,791 silencers have been registered in the United States as of 2018. The ATF has reported few crimes connected to the nearly 1.5 million silencers in the country. In 2017, the agency told the Washington Free Beacon it only recommended prosecutions for 44 silencer-related crimes per year over the course of the previous 10 years. Those numbers mean roughly .003 percent of silencers were used in crimes each year. The agency said only 6 of those 44 crimes involved defendants with prior felony convictions.
Gun control groups did not immediately respond to the president's statement. "We're going to decline to comment for now," Max Samis, a spokesperson for the gun-control group Brady United, told the Free Beacon. The groups Everytown for Gun Safety and Giffords did not reply to requests for comment.
Gun rights groups signaled opposition to a ban on the devices.
"The NRA opposes a suppressor ban," Jennifer Baker, a spokesperson for the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action, told the Free Beacon. "Contrary to the misinformation being spread by the mainstream media, suppressors do not "silence" the sound of a firearm. Not only do suppressors reduce hearing damage for the shooter, they reduce the noise of ranges located near residential areas."
The Firearms Policy Coalition, which is one of the gun-rights groups currently suing over Trump's bump-stock ban, said silencers are protected by the Second Amendment.
"FPC's position is that firearm components like suppressors are not only constitutionally protected instruments that should be completely accessible to all law-abiding people throughout the United States, they are important personal safety equipment," Brandon Combs, president of the group, told the Free Beacon. "Once more we see President Trump speaking as if our government has only once branch, just like he did with his fiat ban on bump-stock devices. Our legal teams are working towards filing petitions for certiorari with the Supreme Court. We remain absolutely committed to restoring the Constitution's limits on executive power and protecting the rights and property of the People."