A House panel is considering a bill to lift the ban. The committee recessed at noon. and is expected to take a vote on the measure later today. Members of the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee passed the bill on a voice vote. It now heads to the House floor for a vote.
During the hearing, Gun rights advocates sported buttons that read "self defense is a human right" while opponents wore large stickers that said "gun injuries and deaths are preventable."
To begin with, supporters of lifting the ban argue that it's unfair to call the devices that muffle the sound of a gun when it's fired from being called a silencer. That's because a rifle with a silencer on it still emits a sound eight times louder than a jackhammer when it's fired. As such, gun rights advocates prefer the term "suppressor."
"Despite what you've seen in the movies or heard on the local news, firearm suppressors don't make a gun silent. What they do is reduce the noise from a rifle or a pistol from instantly damaging to just really, really loud," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Mark Anderson, R-Lake Shore.
Backers of the bill to legalize suppressors argue it's a safety issue because it would protect the hearing of hunters and target range shooters. They also argue it would make target ranges safer because shooters would be better able to hear the instructor. Supporters also made the case Minnesota is an outlier because 39 other states allow the use of silencers.
"The vast majority of the United States has this. I'm not aware of some huge uptick of murders," said Rep. Duane Quam, R-Byron.
Co-sponsors of the bill include Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, and Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin.
The bill's critics argue the reason that there aren't more reports of silencers being used for illegal activity is that they are tightly regulated by the federal government. The concern is that Congress could undue some of those restrictions, making it easier to get suppressors, said Heather Martens, executive director of Protect Minnesota, a nonprofit that supports tougher gun control.
"Silencers are not designed for hearing protection. Silencers were designed to allow people to commit murder and get away with it," Martens said.
Even if the bill passes the committee and heads to the House floor, it still faces tough odds. It would have to win the support of the DFL-led Senate and Gov. Mark Dayton. The governor said today, "I don't think we need changes in Minnesota's gun laws."