Silent but deadly

Silent but deadly


Watered down” gun law is still full of dangerous provisions

Three weeks ago in this space, the Weekly Briefing looked at “Twelve of the most destructive acts taken by the Governor and the 2015 General Assembly.” As was noted, despite the somewhat kinder and gentler face placed on things at times, 2015 has been another dreadful year for public policy in North Carolina:

Though state leaders did not completely privatize the public schools, repeal the state corporate and personal income taxes or abolish all environmental protection laws, they took large new steps in those directions. Moreover, these were just a few of the numerous regressive new laws that will continue to make North Carolina a drabber, shabbier and more divided state going forward.”

The column went on to list a dozen important areas in which state leaders have enacted regressive new laws (or failed to enact progressive ones) – from taxes to education to environmental protection.

Today, however, we concede that the list was actually flawed. It turns out that it should have listed 13 areas rather than 12.

New and worrisome gun laws are now in effect

The shortcoming of the “dirty dozen” list was brought home in a recent email from a friend of NC Policy Watch who had a close and frightening encounter with a person who was apparently exercising new privileges granted to him or her under the terms of House Bill 562, the omnibus gun legislation signed into law by Gov. McCrory back in August.

Here’s how that came about:

As you may recall, House Bill 562 was a controversial proposal championed by Rep. Jacqueline Schaffer that drew significant media attention – particularly earlier in the legislative session. The bill originally proposed, among other things, to repeal handgun background checks, allow guns in the General Assembly, force private businesses to allow guns in parking lots, allow concealed carry permits for misdemeanants, and allow guns at the State Fair.

As the legislative year went on, however, loud public opposition – even from conservative gun rights supporters – forced Schaffer to water the bill down significantly by eliminating some of the higher profile provisions. By the end of the session, pro-gun control advocates like the good folks at North Carolinians Against Gun Violence were even able to claim at least a partial victory. As the NCGV website reported:

Victory on HB 562

On August 5, 2015, Governor McCrory signed HB 562 into law. In the final version of the bill, the pistol permitting system was not eliminated. We are one of only 18 states that have a background check on private handgun sales. Universal background checks like ours are critically important for preventing gun violence.

The bill also preserves a doctor’s right to talk to their patients about gun safety, disallows guns in the General Assembly, and prohibits stalkers from getting concealed carry permits.”

Unfortunately, as the NCGV memo also noted, the bill still contained many troublesome provisions when it became law:

While we celebrate this victory, the bill still contains numerous provisions that undermine safety at schools and at the State Fair and that weaken the efforts of local governments and individual property owners to minimize the threats posed by firearms in our communities.”

And here’s something else the new law will promote – silencers. This from an email sent to NC Policy Watch by the friend in western North Carolina:

While recently taking photos of fall foliage on Curtis Creek in McDowell County in the mountains, I heard two bullets whizz by my head. I knew the sound because of a close call 10 years earlier. I never heard a rifle report but still stayed close to the ground for another 10 minutes following the incident. After leaving the area, I made a formal written complaint to the regional Forestry office. They said such incidents are so common that some areas within parks in the eastern part of NC have had to be closed for extended periods. Upon further investigation I discovered that the reason I had not actually heard the rifle shots is a result of recent legislation passed in HB 562 legalizing noise suppressors, a.k.a. silencers!”

Digging into the new law

A look at the provisions of HB 562 confirms the substance of our friend’s report. It turns out that Section 13 of the bill (go to page 12) specifically directs that local law enforcement officials (typically the sheriff) shall approve requests by North Carolinians to obtain certain federally regulated firearms if the individuals seeking approval are not specifically prohibited from doing so by law. Among the federally regulated weapons regulated the National Firearms Act (NFA): silencers.

A self-described North Carolina silencer dealer puts it this way on the website he runs,

In case you haven’t heard the news, a few weeks ago North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed House Bill 562 into law. This is a landmark piece of legislation for residents of NC, and especially for those North Carolinians who are interested in owning NFA items such as silencers. The passing of HB 562 brings about a requirement for NC CLEOs (Chief Law Enforcement Officer – typically the county sheriff) to sign NFA applications for individuals – provided the individual applying for ownership of said NFA item is not a criminal. In essence, NC has become a “shall certify” state now. This means that your local sheriff should no longer be a road block to you owning a suppressor.”

And in case you wondered what is really at issue, this is from the relevant federal statute:

The terms ‘firearm silencer’ and ‘firearm muffler’ mean any device for silencing, muffling, or diminishing the report of a portable firearm, including any combination of parts, designed or redesigned, and intended for use in assembling or fabricating a firearm silencer or firearm muffler, and any part intended only for use in such assembly or fabrication.”

In other words, under the terms of the new “watered down” gun law, most North Carolinians can now obtain silencers for their weapons that are designed to muffle or suppress the “report” or explosive sound they make when fired and there is little that local law enforcement officials can do about it.

Why this is a problem

According to proponents, making silencers widely available is a good idea because it makes guns easier and more pleasant to use and protects the hearing of gun owners.

Critics of the idea see this reasoning as precisely the reason not to promote their availability and use. As a general matter, they point out compellingly, guns – that is, killing machines – ought not to be something that becomes ever easier and more pleasant to use.

On a more practical level, it’s clear that widespread use of silencers is of huge potential value to criminals who hope to evade detection. Add to this the fact that much of the drive behind the move to expand the sale of silencers comes from the gun industry as it seeks to expand its profits (and that ear protection devices are already available to protect the ears of frequent gun users) and the logic behind the legislation gets more and more tenuous.

But perhaps the most compelling explanation for why the spread of gun silencers rightfully strikes fear into the hearts of a lot of North Carolinians is the story related by our friend from western North Carolina. As the author told me in a recent phone conversation, it’s bad enough that the terror of mass shootings committed by mentally ill people with guns has become an almost everyday occurrence in our country.

But there’s also simply something desperately wrong about a society in which, increasingly, average citizens cannot go for a walk in the woods without fearing they may be struck down by a bullet fired from an almost silent and far off weapon they never saw nor heard. Sadly, as advancing technology produces more and more powerful weapons able to fire projectiles greater and greater distances, this may be our extremely disheartening lot.