Hunters of deer, turkey and other animals in Florida may soon be able to operate with lethal stealth under a state proposal to allow them to use silencers.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will consider a proposal at its Sept. 10 meeting in Kissimmee to permit silencers, also known as suppressors, for shooting deer, turkey, gray squirrels, rabbits, quail and crows.
They don't quite muffle shots down to the sinister pop heard in the movies. But supporters say they can protect hunters' hearing, reduce a rifle's recoil and allow hunters to operate near residential areas without bothering people.
"It basically will take a high-powered rifle and make it sound like a .22," said Tony Young, spokesman for the wildlife commission. "It still makes a sound, but it's at a lower decibel level. Maybe they're hunting close to some houses and maybe they want to be quiet for their neighbors. Maybe if they're quiet when they shoot, it will scare the game less. We're just trying to give people the opportunity to be able to buy one and use one if they choose. We don't see enough negatives to not allow them."
Opponents say silencers will make it easier for poachers to operate and threaten public safety by reducing the noise that alerts people to the presence of hunters.
"You don't want to have shooting in the area and not hear a thing," said Ladd Everitt, spokesman for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. "The report of a firearm is how you know if a hunter is nearby."
He dismissed the arguments in favor of silencers, saying the firearms industry was making a nationwide push to loosen silencer laws to generate more sales.
"They have saturated the market and they are looking for new things to sell existing owners," he said. "This is about an industry trying to sell people more toys without any regard for public safety."
The possession of silencers is controlled under the National Firearms Act, a 1934 law passed in the wake of Prohibition-era violence, restricting ownership of machine guns, sawed-off shotguns and other weapons. To acquire a silencer, a buyer must pass a federal background check and pay $200.
Despite being legal at the federal level, 10 states ban them and eight states, including Florida, don't allow them for hunting under most circumstances.
The American Suppressor Association, which represents manufacturers, has been working successfully to lift state restrictions, announcing on its web page recent victories in Louisiana, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky and Arizona.
"Hunters are very interested in them," said Knox Williams, president and executive director of the American Suppressor Association. "Especially young hunters and new hunters," who he said are more open to new technologies.
Although he said he has been in contact with the state wildlife commission, he said the Florida proposal did not originate with his organization.
Wildlife commission spokesman Young said the proposal came from Florida hunters and landowners, not the manufacturers association. He said current law already permits the use of silencers in hunting certain species, depending on the type of land involved, including wild hogs, raccoons, coyote, beaver, skunk, nutria and otter.
Newton Cook, a hunter and executive director of United Waterfowlers of Florida, said he opposes the use of silencers, except possibly near residential areas where they might make it easier to hunt without generating complaints.
Otherwise, he said, silencers might make it easier for hunters to kill more than the legal limit in deer or turkey traveling in groups or make it easier for poachers.
"I have a real problem with silencers except in situations where the noise of gunshots might make a difference in hunting access," he said.
Silencer supporters see no risk of increased poaching, since poachers could already use the devices if they're inclined to operate illegally.
"If they break one law, what's going to stop them from breaking another?" asked Marion Hammer, Tallahassee lobbyist for the National Rifle Association.
Although she said the devices would appeal to those seeking to protect hearing or avoid scattering wildlife with the first shot, she said the cost and procedural hassles will deter many people.
"You have to pay the transfer tax, go through background checks," she said. "This is not going to be something that everybody and anybody is going to want to do."
The proposal before the wildlife commission is a draft. It will receive preliminary consideration at the September meeting, and if given a green light, go for final approval at a later meeting. The public will have a chance to speak at each meeting.
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