SILENCER SATURDAY #322: Of Acorns, Crime, and Silencers

by Pete
SILENCER SATURDAY #322: Of Acorns, Crime, and Silencers

Good afternoon everyone and welcome back to TFB’s Silencer Saturday brought to you by Yankee Hill Machine, manufacturers of the brand new YHM 338 Bad Larry Suppressor. Last week we talked about an an NFA administrative checklist to keep all of your important items in order. This week, since we are still in between suppressor reviews, we discuss the number of silencers used in crime by way of the sound of acorns. Do you think the criminal use of suppressors is a problem in the U.S.? Let’s take a look.

More acorns @ TFB:

SILENCER SATURDAY #322: Of Acorns, Crime, and Silencers

The idea for this editorial started when I stumbled upon an article from the Violence Policy Center entitled Silencers: A Threat To Public Safety. Our Firearms, Not Politics motto aside, the piece was basket of cherry-picked, fear-porn laced statements and statistics meant to beat the drum for more regulations. I’m not even mad; these are tried and true media techniques that both ‘sides’ wield regularly to energize their base of true believers. If anything, I blame non-critical thinkers for not digging deep enough to see through the underlying narratives and hidden motives.

Nonetheless, the VPC article forced me to think about the prevalence of NFA items and crime in America and the search for any correlations between the two. Logical reasoning would conclude that with the dramatic increase in suppressor ownership and use over the past two decades, that criminal acts involving legally owned suppressors would increase as well. The first question is, how many Americans have ever seen a silencer in person. Second, how prevalent is violent crime that includes the use of a silencer? The first question is difficult to answer, so I approached it from the angle of both gun owners and regular shooters.

NFA firearms data:

Between 2000 and 2020, the number of Gun Control Act (GCA) firearms and National Firearms Act (NF A) weapons that were domestically manufactured, exported by U.S. manufacturers, or imported into the U.S. increased by 187%, 240% and 350% respectively. Source: ATF

Silencer specific data:

[A]nnual silencer manufacturing volume increased 3,699% between 2000 (5,001) and 2020 (189,987) with the bulk of this growth taking place after 2010. In 2000, the 5,001 silencers manufactured constituted 6% of the total 79,862 NFA weapons manufactured and distributed into domestic commerce that year. In 2020, the 189,987 silencers manufactured constitutes 80% of the total 238,917 NFA weapons manufactured and distributed into domestic commerce that year. Source: ATF

With a 3,700% increase in manufacturing numbers in just 20 years, it would reasonable to assume that criminal acts involving the use of silencers would have a similar percentage increase as well. We will get to that in a moment.

Even with the dramatic rise in commercial availability, silencers still represent a very small percentage of all firearms currently in use. Using anecdotal evidence to demonstrate how small the active silencer community is in the United States, consider the fact that the majority of Americans may own firearms, but they are not regular shooters. If we then take the number of gun owners who shoot regularly and are also suppressor owners, the club starts to get very exclusive. And lastly, we take that exclusive club and limit it further to those who also use outside ranges. In the end, there may be a few thousand devoted members who may have recently seen or heard true suppressed gunfire.

Source: ATF

The Acorn

Which leads us to The Acorn. Last month, a law enforcement officer opened fire on a suspect who was handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser. If you haven’t seen the video, I’m including it below.

Deputy scared by an acorn hitting his cruiser opens fire in street

Washington Post (2/14/2024):

A Florida law enforcement officer shot at an unarmed and handcuffed man after mistaking the sound of a falling acorn for a gunshot, according to internal investigation documents.

The girlfriend showed deputies that Jackson, who was known to carry a gun, had allegedly sent her threatening texts and a photo from inside her car, the report said. Deputies thought the photos showed a gun, but investigators later found out it actually showed less than two inches of a gray metal cylinder that everyone interpreted to be a firearm suppressor attached to a gun, according to the report. She told officers that Jackson had more than one gun.

I won’t spend any time analyzing or criticizing the officer’s actions; the public shaming will follow him around for years to come. But the context behind his actions is important – the officer went into the situation expecting to meet a suspect armed with a gun with a suppressor. For the sake of today’s discussion, let’s pretend that the suspect wasn’t already handcuffed in the back of a cruiser.

The more important point is that the officer had advanced warning of what he considered to be an elevated threat, and acted upon what he believed to be suppressed gunfire, which ultimately was caused by an acorn bouncing off the sheet metal of a car.

Having shot suppressed pistols or being around others who are shooting suppressed pistols hundreds of times over the last ten years, I have never equated the resulting report to an acorn dropping on metal. As I have summarized many times in the past, silencer-equipped firearms are rarely labeled as classically quiet. Instead, these setups are quiet enough to prevent serious hearing damage at close range.

With these facts in mind, I am going to make the assumption that the “acorn officer” was not reacting to the sound of suppressed gunfire from a plethora of professional experience. Instead, this was probably a reaction to preconceived beliefs of what suppressed gunfire might sound like based upon Hollywood portrayals of assassin-like characters or first person shooter video games. If we wanted to add hard data, we could look at the number of officer-involved shootings over a career and divide it by the number of years this specific officer has on the job and then extrapolate how many of those involved a silencer. Again, my guess would be zero.

This incident aside, we still don’t have a good idea about the number of silencers used in commission of violent crimes. In the absence of a true scientific study, I used the internet to collect media reports on violent crimes involving the use of a suppressor. But first, it is important to understand the overall prevalence of violent crime and the types of firearms that are involved.

The murder rate in the U.S. is currently below the peak murder rate as recorded 50 years ago.

The gun murder rate in the U.S. remains below its peak level despite rising sharply during the pandemic. There were 6.7 gun murders per 100,000 people in 2021, below the 7.2 recorded in 1974. Source: Pew Research Center

Handguns are the leading type of firearms involved in violent crimes.

In 2020, the most recent year for which the FBI has published data, handguns were involved in 59% of the 13,620 U.S. gun murders and non-negligent manslaughters for which data is available. Rifles – the category that includes guns sometimes referred to as “assault weapons” – were involved in 3% of firearm murders. Shotguns were involved in 1%. The remainder of gun homicides and non-negligent manslaughters (36%) involved other kinds of firearms or those classified as “type not stated. Source: Pew Research Center

The reason that handguns are the preferred tool for violent criminals could be the basis for a PhD thesis, but the assumption can be made that they are usually inexpensive, more available, and most importantly, smaller, portable, and concealable.

It is for these reasons that it is unlikely that violent criminals would choose to use a suppressor. A silencer adds expense, is more difficult to source based on overall availability, and would add nearly double the size to the assailants weapon. Simply put, using a silencer for violent crime is not practical and does add an overall performance benefit.

Returning to the internet for media research, I was only able to identify one report of a silencer being used in a violent crime in the past year.

Man Murdered Naked Woman at MGM Grand Using Gun With Silencer, Las Vegas Cops Reveal (2/10/2024) :

The man accused of fatally shooting an unclothed woman in a guest room at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino has been arrested. He will appear in court on Tuesday.

Dandre Owens, 29, allegedly shot the victim in the back of the head at the Las Vegas Strip property in late January, using a firearm equipped with a silencer.

Authorities found the woman on a bed, according to Las Vegas TV station KLAS. The sheets were covered in blood. She was wearing only a pair of socks covering her feet.

Police later identified the murdered woman as Brittani Bailey, 29.

When searching him, officers found a silencer, firearm, and a magazine. He allegedly told police his name was “John Doe.” He had several fake IDs, too, police said.

Later, he told police his correct name.

Owens claimed he found the gun and silencer in the desert. But when police searched Owens’ house, they located four other silencers and ammo, KLAS reported.

I fully admit that this was a limited search of media reports over the last 12 months and would not include unreported incidents or unsolved violent crimes with no witnesses or visual evidence that would identify the types of firearms used. However, it would be reasonable to conclude that with the 3,700% increase in commercially available suppressors over the past 20 years, that if they were a threat to public safety, the media reports of silencers used in violent crime would increase as well. That does not appear to be the case.

Side note, this was an interesting Google search result (3rd hit):

SILENCER SATURDAY #322: Of Acorns, Crime, and Silencers

So far we have only considered commercially available suppressors in the dramatic increase in the overall number of suppressors in the wild. We should also account for an estimate of unregistered/homemade silencers over the past two decades. While there is no way to determine actual numbers, reports of arrests/convictions of the manufacturing and ownership of these items can give an idea of their overall availability.

3 Montgomery County men arrested for manufacturing, trafficking ghost gunks 8/30/2023:

Man sentenced to six years in prison for sending gun silencers to Roanoke (6/08/2023):

Eugene man federally charged for possessing 3D-printed machine guns and silencer (6/28/2023):

Florida Man Gets Prison for Selling Firearm Silencers (8/06/2023):

Counterpoints can be made to all of the above arguments that discount the prevalence and efficacy of silencer use in violent crime. For one, suppressors have been identified as being used in high-profile cases such as the Dorner mass murder case in California and the Virginia Beach mass murder case, as well as other incidents over the years, some of which are outlined in the VPC article. First, I would argue that the suppressors used in many of these cases added little to no tactical advantage, especially since the VPC article references increased communication abilities between team members using suppressed firearms (they acted alone). Second, as verifiable data goes, the number of violent acts are absolutely minuscule, especially when compared to other non-firearm instruments used in violent crimes.

Other arguments that can be made may involve the fact that crimes involving suppressors are under-reported because, no one could hear the resulting gunfire. Again, I would return to the fact that most suppressed gunfire could not be classified as “quiet” and that the number and types of weapons used by criminals doesn’t support the evidence for increased use of silencers.

Acorns, Not Silencers, Are a Threat To Public Safety

Simply put, the overall use case for suppressed firearms in violent crime is not supported by the practical real-word limitations they introduce. On paper, a suppressor on a gun seems like a dangerous assassins tool that would allow an attacker to commit crime unnoticed. Realistically however, the overwhelming majority of violent crimes are those of opportunity, where the availability of any weapon dictates the methods of attack. It is the false perception of an increased threat, like the acorn, that can lead to a miscalculation in the need for regulation.

Like firearms in general, if suppressors were a leading indicator of violent crime, the number and availability trends would correlate to increased use. The data and media reports do not point to the conclusion that suppressors are, or ever were, an additional risk to personal safety. I contended that their high threat level label is attributed to a lack of knowledge and eduction as well as their inaccurate portrayal as murder tools in popular media.

Thanks for reading. Be safe, have fun, and we’ll see you back here next week for another Silencer Saturday.




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