Florida hunters may soon be using silencers on guns

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on Wednesday took the first step toward lifting a 57-year-long restriction on the use of suppressors, or silencers, on guns used to hunt game animals in the state.

Commissioners voted unanimously in favor of a draft rule allowing hunters to use noise-suppressed rifles and pistols to shoot deer, wild turkeys, squirrels, rabbits and quail on public and private lands. The measure will be up for final approval at the next commission meeting in November.

Commission vice chairman Brian Yablonski of Tallahassee called the use of silencers a “non-issue” because the devices already are allowed for hunting in Florida in certain cases such as taking game animals with shotguns. They also are legal for hunting in 32 other states.

“There has been no zombie apocalypse as a result of suppressors,” Yablonski said. “It’s not something folks are going to be rushing out and doing.”

The draft rule is supported by some hunters and the American Suppressor Association, an industry trade group, who say the devices protect hunters’ hearing and reduce recoil.

The association’s president and executive director, Knox Williams, said the measure will bring new shooters to the sport of hunting.

“It’s a neat way to get them excited about hunting, to get them in the field with a new, cool piece of gear they can use,” Williams told the commission.

Added Lyle McCandless, president of the Big Cypress Sportsmen’s Alliance: “It’s a big advantage to youth hunting, which we need to encourage.”

But Patricia Brigham, chair of the gun safety committee of the League of Women Voters of Florida, said the proliferation of suppressors will cause more harm to humans who won’t know to stay clear of a hunter’s gun.

“There are more important things than conserving the hearing of a hunter,” Brigham said. “The more important thing is that bullet penetrating the skin, penetrating the heart of a nearby hiker.”

Diane Eggeman, director of the FWC’s division of hunting and game management, said suppressors don’t completely silence firearms, which still produce decibel levels comparable to loud rock music. Eggeman noted they are expensive at $750 to $2,000 apiece and must be registered with the federal government with a $200 fee and completion of an FBI background check. Felons and those convicted of domestic abuse may not possess suppressors. Violators face stiff fines and possible prison time.

After the vote advancing the measure, Yablonski took aim at critics for taking “cheap shots” at hunters.

“Hunters really are funding all the wildlife research and habitat conservation,” he said. “Hikers and wildlife watchers are enjoying the benefits of what the hunters are doing.”