BOSTON — Massachusetts is among a handful of states that bans silencers, also called sound suppressors. However, some people say gun owners are finding a way around the restrictions with legally purchased kits often assembled with household items.
A proposal heard by the Legislature’s Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security would update the state’s ban on the devices to account for component parts that can be easily used to construct homemade silencers.
The bill’s primary, Rep. Paul Tucker, D-Salem, said ‘do-it-yourself’ silencers make it easier for criminals and potential mass-shooters to conceal their attacks.
“This is a public safety issue,” he told members of the committee. “Anybody who has studied active shooter situations knows the sound of gunfire is a trigger to get away from an area that might be harmful to them.”
Tucker said the legislation would put Massachusetts in line with federal law that has a much broader definition of illegal firearm components.
The measure is co-sponsored by Attorney General Maura Healey, a Democrat and top law enforcement official who has pushed for stronger gun control laws.
Assistant Attorney General Gina Kwon, chief of Healey’s criminal investigation bureau, told the panel that “seemingly innocuous devices” such as fuel filters are being marketed online as parts that can be easily converted into silencers.
“These items are generally legal to possess, however, with relatively easy and small modifications they become silencers,” she told the panel.
Massachusetts is one of nine of states that bans silencers. While law enforcement and manufacturers are allowed to use them, the general public cannot.
In states where they are legal, the devices are classified as a weapon and buyers must register, undergo a federal background check, and pay a tax.
Critics say lawmakers and gun control advocates are overstating the dangers of sound suppressors. While they have long been associated in Hollywood movies with gangsters and assassins, the devices have practical uses for firearm owners, such as protecting hearing, improving aim and reducing noise at shooting ranges.
“I’m not sure what problem they are trying to solve with these regulations,” said Jim Wallace, executive director of the Gun Owners Action League of Massachusetts, which is affiliated with the National Rifle Association. “There’s no need for it.”
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.