One of the most controversial bills being discussed in Atlanta doesn’t seem, at least to lawmakers, to be controversial at all. Senate Bill 301 would allow hunters to use silencers on their weapons and that’s a scary proposition to many who live in rural areas.
Many residents worry that with silencers employed, they won’t hear when hunters are nearby and pose a threat. That is not a casual concern. Deer rifles, for instance, have a range of about 200 yards and some up to 300 yards or more. Every year there are hunting accidents ranging from hunters falling out of their deer stands to accidental shootings. Last March, a U.S. Forest Service officer was killed in Jasper County by hunters using night scopes while hunting coyotes.
There are several reasons hunters might want to go through the expensive and paperwork intensive process of acquiring a silencer (sometimes called suppressors). In Arizona there is also an attempt to make silencers legal for hunting. Hunters in the Grand Canyon state cite health reasons and say silencers will protect their hearing and the hearing of their hunting dogs.
Sen. John Bulloch, R-Ochlocknee, sponsor of SB 301 gave a different reason when he promoted the bill to his Senate colleagues (SB 301 passed 48-5). Bulloch said it would help landowners deal with feral hogs. The hogs run in packs and it’s difficult to “get off more than one shot.” He also said silencers would reduce the number of calls to law enforcement from residents who report hearing gunshots.
The Senate bill would also suspend a hunter’s license for three years if found using a silencer on property without the landowner’s permission; hunting in an area that is closed for hunting; or hunting big game out of season or at night. Interestingly, those hunters using silencers illegally, would be harder to catch.
Unfortunately, hunting accidents happen and a high velocity bullet, if fired in the wrong direction, will do its damage long before the sound is heard. The sound would, however, give warning that hunters, or others, are in the area.
The bill now heads to the House and, with the backing of the National Rifle Association, it will probably see little resistance. Legislators should use an abundance of caution. While not having a silencer may hinder hunters, what is more important than the peace of mind of a much larger constituency?
-- Charles E. Richardson, for the Editorial Board