Silencer Business Booms as Deregulation Bill Heads for Debate

Yankee Hill Machine Co. Inc., unveiled its new Turbo suppressor at SHOT Show 2017. (Military.com photo/Matthew Cox)
Yankee Hill Machine Co. Inc., unveiled its new Turbo suppressor at SHOT Show 2017. (Military.com photo/Matthew Cox)

LAS VEGAS -- In the gun suppressor industry, competition can be fierce, but the companies are united in their support of a bill introduced this month that aims to make it cheaper and easier to own one of the devices.

Many companies that make and sell silencers arrived at SHOT Show after a banner business year, and optimistic that a repeal of certain regulations could spur an additional surge in demand.

The bill, the Hearing Protection Act of 2017, was introduced Jan. 9 by Reps. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina and John Carter of Texas, both Republicans, and has 68 sponsors in all. It would retroactively remove the $200 tax on suppressors, and remove them from regulation under the National Firearms Act, in the name of reducing shooters' hearing loss.

While a similar piece of legislation introduced in 2015 never made it out of committee, advocates say they're cautiously optimistic that the bill will pass this year.

SilencerCo, which owns a handy majority of the market share of silencers, planned an addition of four new buildings at its headquarters in West Valley City, Utah, public relations specialist Matt Pinnell told Military.com. This year, the company's display was dominated by the Maxim 9, a 9mm pistol with a built-in silencer that just entered production.

"Our growth rate has been amazing. And the suppressor industry growth rate has been amazing," Pinnell said. "I think it's because people are becoming educated on what they really are. Once people become educated and try our product, try any suppressor and know what they can actually offer, a lot of that fear starts to go away."

GemTech, an Idaho-based suppressor company, saw business grow 300 percent in the last 12 months, due in part to new manager, said Philip Sansotta, online marketing manager for the company. And all are expecting a feeding frenzy of demand for the devices if the tax and regulations requiring a wait period for ownership go away.

"From an industry standpoint, it's going to be a lot more competitors entering the field. It could devalue certain brands, everyone's trying to compete, a lot of people could go out of business," Sansotta said. "But I think the cream is going to rise to the top with this one.

See Military.com's Full Coverage of SHOT Show 2017

Sansotta said GenTech, like most of the companies who spoke with Military.com, already has a tentative strategy to ramp up production if demand suddenly increases. But building out supply chains takes time, and some worry that heightened demand could create shortages and long wait times, even without regulations requiring them.

"It would be a whole new game. Just watch this start flying off the shelves," said CJ Hunter, a machinist at Hailey Defense, a small company that makes adjustable-gas suppressors. "You might have some delays just waiting on manufacturing at that point."

Adam Ward, an accounts manager at Operators Suppressor Systems, which makes suppressors for the military and for the commercial market, agreed that production would probably lag behind demand for awhile. Likely also: the appearance of new suppliers on the market.

"All those people that think suppressors are cool, but don't want to go through the hassle, will buy them," he said. "So all these gun stores that never sold suppressors, you'll have a bunch of little companies come up and start making suppressors that never would have thought of it. And a lot of them will die out because they're going to be doing what everybody else is doing. But I think it's going to change a lot."

Critics of the bill say deregulating suppressors might thwart law enforcement officers trying to catch criminals using silences guns. Proponents contend silencers only diminish the sound of gunshots, leaving an unmistakable noise signature.

The suppressor lobby, headed by the American Suppressor Association, got a shot in the arm when Donald Trump Jr., the son of the president and an active hunter, visited SilencerCo last year for a sit-down interview focused on the Second Amendment.

As SilencerCo and other corporate advocates of the bill wait to see how it fares in Congress, Pinnell said they're encouraging firearms enthusiasts to keep purchasing silencers now, noting they will get a refund on their $200 tax expenditure if the bill does pass.

"A lot of people are in limbo: do I buy now, do I buy later," Pinnell said. "I've been asked a lot if I think HPA is going to go through. Regardless if it does or if it doesn't, there's no need to stop purchasing suppressors at this time."

There is one potential concern that could rear its head as the bill heads for debate: as written, it would take away many of the regulations governing the creation of homemade suppressors, potentially creating safety risks.

"I think you could get a lot of people trying to make their own suppressors at home and that could get dangerous at some point," Hunter said. "Especially if you're out at the open range next to Bubba with his homemade oil can filter [suppressor] that goes up in flames because he didn't do it right."

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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