There be trouble brewing in the little bitty town of West Pawlet. With 1,386 residents according to the census, one might not immediately think that the picturesque New England village nestled in the hills near the New York border might be a setting for turmoil, yet a local feud between neighbors has recently turned into a story that is fast becoming one of the more contentious topics in the state.
By now we all know the backstory and for the most part it’s been the same old story: guy moves out to what he thinks is the middle of nowhere and builds a shooting range on his property. Pretty soon he starts inviting his friends and other people to shoot at his range too. The neighbors, while at first only mildly annoyed, eventually grow tired of hearing gunfire every weekend and petition the local authorities to “do something” about it.
Normally this is the point in the story where the local regulators find some technicality in our quagmire of laws that allows them to bludgeon the property owner into submission for the sake of keeping the peace. Usually, the property owner, cowed by the threat of fines, and/or litigation decides that it is not worth the trouble and begrudgingly complies. In this case however, the property owner seems to be an unusually resilient fellow who refuses to comply with the demands of local authorities for what he feels are legitimate reasons.
So here we are with a good old-fashioned neighborly range war blown up to such proportions that multiple media publications have taken up the torch of demonizing the landowner and those who participate on the property in the hope of forcing the legislature to respond. If what Slate Ridge is doing isn’t technically illegal -yet- they intend to make it so. The irony of this is that the Federal government has had multiple chances to pass legislation that would have made Slate Ridge a non-issue before its inception, but has chosen not to do so – mostly at the behest of the gun control lobby.
In 2017 there was a proposed bill which would have removed firearm suppressors from the NFA registry and thus eliminate the prohibitively expensive and cumbersome permitting process required to obtain a common accessory which reduces the noise created from firing a gun. The Hearing Protection Act or HPA as it was dubbed, would have returned suppressors (which are not even firearms, but aftermarket accessories) to their rightful, over the counter availability by eliminating the $200 transfer tax and year-long, highly intrusive federal investigation required (for each suppressor!) by the archaic National Firearms Act of 1934.
This is the point where the casual observer sits up with a start. “What?!?,” you might be thinking. “Did this guy just say that silencers should be available at the local hardware store without any regulation whatsoever!?! He can’t be serious?!?” Oh, but I did, and I am quite serious. You see, Mr. and Mrs. casual observer suffer from the same myopic view of suppressors that has infected most lawmakers and to a lesser extent, some of the more ill-informed members of the gun culture itself.
Inventor Hiram P. Maxim was the first to patent a noise muffler for a firearm in 1909. He dubbed his device “the Maxim Silencer” which is a bit of a misnomer and more of a marketing tool as anyone who has used one knows that it “silences” the gunshot about like an automotive muffler “silences” a large diesel truck. Rather, the device dampens the sound to a sufficient extent as to not significantly damage one’s hearing. Even if the device were to completely muffle the sound of the explosion, the supersonic crack of the projectile breaking the sound barrier as it leaves the barrel is still loud enough to cause hearing damage to someone with direct and prolonged exposure. This leads many to refer to the device more correctly as a “suppressor” rather than a “silencer.”
Alas, it seems casual observers and politicians alike, continue to reject the available scientific information in favor of a negative stereotype perpetuated by Hollywood propagandists and people who generally know nothing about guns. The idea that the suppressor is a sinister invention only employed by mafia hitmen for their nefarious purposes is absurd, and the fact is that this regulation has likely been a large contributor to American hearing loss in the last 80 years. Indeed, even our European neighbors who don’t share our reverence for firearms realize this as suppressors are widely available over the counter in many areas (suppressors are not even serialized in the U.K.) although the firearm might be much more difficult to procure.
Given that the Slate Ridge debacle has evolved from a disagreement over noise, it is not unreasonable to speculate that had Congress passed the HPA in 2017, when they had the opportunity, we might not even be talking about Slate Ridge today. Instead we are left with a scenario which has gone from neighbors lamenting the noise created by someone shooting on their own property to a statewide issue with strong accusations tossed in all directions, and where the largest media outlets in the area have taken to actively lobbying lawmakers and the Governor to “do something” about it.
Regardless of how we got here, or who is at fault, we can be sure of two things: that gun control politicians will always double down on bad policy with more gun control, and, if the situation in West Pawlet continues to deteriorate, gun control politicians certainly will not propose a “fix” that involves repealing the prohibition of anything.
Eric Davis is president of Gun Owners of Vermont, a First Amendment education and advocacy group committed to a no-compromise position on firearms ownership rights.
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