Editorial: Let’s hear it for keeping gun silencers from shooters

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A ShotSpotter image pinpoints where a gunshot was detected in a 2008 demonstration in Gary, Ind. | Sun-Times Library

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Just as Chicago is moving ahead with new technology that could help reduce gunfire deaths, Congress and the Illinois Senate are considering misguided bills that could shoot Chicago’s effort to pieces by making gun silencers easily available.

Chicago’s new technology, called ShotSpotter, alerts police as soon as bullets start flying, instead of making them wait for a phone call. Officers can respond more quickly — sometimes within seconds. By arriving faster, detectives are more likely to find witnesses, and crime scene personnel have a better chance of scooping up evidence, such as shell casings. Victims can get medical care faster. Recently, Chicago’s Public Building Commission voted to spend $938,500 to expand ShotSpotter in the Englewood and Harrison police districts, which are home to most of the city’s gun violence.


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But ShotSpotter is ineffective if shooters use gun silencers, devices that muffle the sound of gunfire when they are attached to a gun’s barrel. Silencers also further imperil innocent people at a shooting scene because they can’t hear the crack of the gun that tells them to get out of the way. The Violence Policy Center in Washington says silencers “could help enable mass shooters and other murderers to kill a greater number of victims more efficiently.” A proliferation of silencers would mean more dead innocent people.

But that hasn’t stopped two U.S. House Republicans from introducing a bill this month to eliminate federal restrictions on silencers. Nor has it prevented the introduction of a bill in the Illinois Senate that would lift the state’s ban on silencers.

Defenders of easily obtainable silencers, including Donald Trump Jr., say the devices protect the hearing of hunters, who apparently can’t be bothered to wear hearing protection or obtain federal silencer permits, which involve submitting fingerprints and a photo, paying a $200 tax, a background check and a wait of several months. But the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence says there is no public health evidence that gunfire is causing hearing loss.

Because Congress is friendly to the gun lobby, the federal restrictions might be eased. It is all the more important, then, to maintain Illinois’ own ban on silencers.

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