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Use of firearm suppressors in Minnesota gets approval from House committee

Andrew Rothman, president of the Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance, holds a suppressor during his March 12 testimony on a bill to allow possession and use of suppressors after completing the necessary federal certification process. Photo by Paul Battaglia

A House committee got an earful Thursday about a bill that supporters say is designed, in part, to protect a person’s hearing.

Sponsored by Rep. Mark Anderson (R-Lake Shore), HF1434 would allow firearm suppressors to be used in Minnesota.

“This would bring Minnesota into the American mainstream, joining 39 other states that allow possession of sound suppressors on firearms,” Anderson said.

[MORE: Watch Thursday's hearings]

Approved by the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee on a voice vote with at least one audible “no,” the bill heads to the House Floor. A companion, SF1435, sponsored by Sen. Paul Gazelka (R-Nisswa), awaits action by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“These devices were invented in 1902 by the same man who invented the automobile muffler and both were marketed as ‘silencers,’ but that only reflected slick marketing and not science,” Anderson said. “Despite what you’ve seen in the movies or heard on the local news, firearm suppressors don’t make a gun silent. What they do is reduce the noise from a rifle or a pistol from instantly damaging to just really, really loud.”

Andrew Rothman, president of Gun Owners Civil Rights Alliance, said a typical rifle with a suppressor is still about eight times louder than a jackhammer.

“[Suppressors] are treated as a deadly firearm by the federal government, so it’s very tightly regulated,” he said. Among the steps needed to acquire a suppressor is a federal background check. It is a federal felony to illegally possess a suppressor.

Luke Soderling is a permit to carry instructor and a competitive shooter. He supports the bill, not only because the use of suppressors would help with potential hearing loss that comes with exposure to muzzle blasts, but it would make it safer when teaching people how to properly use weapons. 

“Training and competitive environments are much safer places when range commands don’t need to be shouted over hearing protection,” he said. “In some cases at the range, my students don’t know who I’m talking to and in order to understand better they turn toward me. This is not a safe thing to be doing on the firing range while holding a loaded firearm.”

In a letter to Committee Chair Rep. Tony Cornish (R-Vernon Center), the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association expressed their opposition to the bill because it would make suppressor owners targets of thieves and it would impact the ShotSpotter or similar technology.

“The technology is activated by the sound of gunfire and identifies the location of where the shots were fired. Simply stated, firearm suppressors would render this technology useless,” the letter states.

Cornish questioned that claim, saying he spoke a Minneapolis Police Department sergeant.

“He believed it would probably be problematic if it was a .22 with a low volume already,” he said. “He also said that shot locators are difficult to make work with shots fired inside buildings, inside cars and in environmentally enclosed areas, so there’s a number of problems already with shot locators. He also said that these locators recognize sounds that have been put in the database, so that if you took a suppressor-fired weapon, and entered that into a database it could recognize it.” 

Heather Martens, executive director of Protect Minnesota, is concerned that the federal government — which she said is “under attack” by the gun-rights industry —could undo some restrictions and make it easier to get suppressors and that suppressors could dissuade safe shooting.

“I would also like to point out that silencers are not designed for hearing protection; silencers were designed to allow people to commit murder and get away with it,” she said. “If there is someone that is committing a mass shooting, if they do have the benefit of a silencer, they can claim more victims before they are caught. We would like to prevent tragedy not react after the fact.”

Other opponents said the bill is simply about potential profits.

“As a gun owner, I see this as an attempt to open up Minnesota as a market for the manufacturers of suppressors. This is all about making money, and not caring about the damage it can do in an already gun-crazed society,” said Bill Krause of Plymouth. “This is not about hearing loss. That’s an excuse.”

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