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From sonic boom to light whisper: Texas legalizes silencers for hunting

By Jessica Ferguson
May 14, 2012 at 10 p.m.

Hunters can put their ear muffs and plugs away - if they're patient and can afford to buy a silencer.

Gun suppressors were legalized in late March, for hunting game animals, game birds and alligators.

The law goes into effect Sept. 1, with the opening of dove season.

"Suppressors are already legal for hunting exotic animals, including feral hogs," said Scott Vaca, assistant chief of wildlife enforcement with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Vaca helped develop the proposal for the regulation change.

Although the change opens the use of suppressors to a wider variety of animals, it does not change the tedious process people have to go through to get and keep the permit to use a firearm silencer.

Passage of the bill brought mixed reaction from hunters.

"It's great and long overdue," said Bod Godell, owner of Longview's The Gun Doctor.

Godell said noise suppressors have many benefits.

"It decreases the noise level, so there is no need to use ear muffs or plugs and it's better for the neighbors," he said.

Since the noise is lower, it doesn't spook the animals, either, he said.

Earl Ates, a life-long NRA member, doubts silencers will be as beneficial as it seems.

"They (lawmakers) kind of lied to the courts and the public about what a silencer really does," Ates said. "They said it wasn't going to make it anything like Hollywood where you don't hear anything at all."

A firearm suppressor coupled with hand-loaded subsonic ammunition will lower the speed of a bullet to below 1,050 feet per second, the Longview hunter said.

"That takes it below the speed of sound and you won't hear a thing, maybe a slight whisper," he said.

Fired from an average rifle, a bullet usually travels at a speed of 2,800 to 3,000 feet per second and carries 2,500 pounds of energy, Ates said.

With a noise level so low, Ates is worried about the chances of poaching and other illegal activities.

"We don't have any evidence to show that this would increase poaching," Vaca said.

Ates' concern is mainly for the animals.

"Using a suppressor can also go against making a humane kill," he said.

A bullet slowed below the speed of sound loses velocity, the hunter said, so it might only wound and not kill the target.

He said: "Sure, when it hits a target it can still penetrate. It might go through. It might not, depending on the range."

Vaca also said another added benefit of suppressor use is that it reduces recoil, allowing hunters to fire off a round without the gun kicking as hard. In short, it makes for a more accurate shot.

Again, Ates disagrees.

"If that's a problem, they need to go to the rifle range more," he said.

"If you're scared of that gun going boom, then you need to get behind the trigger more. In fact, you probably shouldn't be shooting in the first place."

Although, many hunters have conflicting opinions on the issue, Texas leads the nation in suppressor sales, Vaca said and according to Godell, inquiries about buying them have increased since the law passed.

Buying a suppressor is not something that can be done on impulse.

"When people find out the time and cost involved, it decreases the impulse," Godell said.

<strong>The Process</strong>

To buy a silencer is a slow, lengthy process.

The prospective buyer must go through an extensive application process administered by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). The application for the ATF criminal background check costs costs $200.

"You must submit your fingerprint and photograph," Godell said. "The applicant also must be personally approved by the sheriff before even sending the application to the government."

"Buyers have to also ensure they go to a Class 3 firearms dealer and get the serial number for the suppressor they wish to purchase," Vaca said. "After the application has been accepted, you must bring it back to the dealer."

The application process usually takes 60 to 120 days.

Because of the increase in inquiries and sales, the lead time is even longer.

Beyond the $200 application fee, the suppressor itself can range in cost from $500 up to a couple of thousand dollars, Vaca said.

"It's not a cheap endeavor," he said.



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