Texas continues to lead the way in gun silencer sales

Glen Furtardo knows a good buy when he sees one.

He says that's why he has several silencers in his gun collection. "They don't lose value," said Furtardo, manager at the Winchester Gallery gun store in east Fort Worth. "It's a good investment."

He's not alone in thinking that.

Nationwide, more than 22,000 of these noise suppressors were sold this year -- 9 percent more than last year -- and the most were sold in Texas for at least the third year in a row, according to statistics released by the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

In Texas, 3,621 silencers were sold in fiscal 2010, ahead of 2,053 in Florida and 1,153 in Georgia, the data show.

"People just want them," Furtardo said. "It's like tattoos. ... They have come out of the closet. Now everyone gets them."

DeWayne Irwin, who owns the Cheaper Than Dirt gun store in north Fort Worth, said he has steadily seen sales of silencers rise, along with ammunition and guns, over the past two years.

That, he said, may be partly due to a widespread concern that the Obama administration will hike taxes on ammunition, guns and other firearms-related materials or ultimately reinstate an assault weapons ban that expired in 2004.

"People are afraid the federal government will put tighter restrictions on the suppressors, much like they did the machine guns," Irwin said. "I think the sales on the suppressors are going to go up as long as there's a Democrat in the White House."

Buying silencers

Buying a silencer requires an application, just as with buying a legal machine gun.

That application asks various questions about the prospective buyer and the dealer and requires a set of photos, a citizenship certificate and two fingerprint cards. Also, a local sheriff or law enforcement officer must sign off on the form stating that the prospective buyer does not have a criminal record.

The documents and a one-time $200 transfer tax are sent to Washington, D.C., where federal officials conduct a background check that can take two to nine months. If approval is granted, the buyer may then pick up their silencer from the store, area gun sellers say.

"It's a pretty good system," Irwin said. "If you are a convicted felon, they're going to catch you somewhere."

Silencers cost $199 to $6,000, sellers say, and attach to many guns, including handguns and rifles.

Marsha McCartney, a Dallas volunteer for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said she doesn't understand why people would buy silencers in the first place.

"It would only be a concern if they were buying them because they are doing something illegal," she said.

'This is Texas'

Some people take their silencers to shooting ranges. Others might take them to "machine gun shoots," where gun lovers gather to fire at targets. Still more might keep a silencer on their handgun or rifle at home to help with "varmint" control -- shooting coyotes, skunks or snakes.

"The only use I can think of for a silencer is if you are hunting hogs and have 15 to 20 hogs at a feeder," said Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, a former state senator who shepherded conceal-carry legislation in 1995. "That's a practical use if you want to shoot one without scaring others off.

"Or maybe if you're getting rid of squirrels in your back yard," said Patterson, who always carries a gun but does not have a silencer.

It's more than that, Irwin said.

"Ninety percent of the people who buy them just think they are so cool," Irwin said. "This is Texas."

Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610