Columbus — Ohio has joined more than 30 states that allow hunters to use soup-can-sized noise suppressors on guns for certain wildlife such as deer and game birds.
The bill signed into law this month by Gov. John Kasich and taking effect in about three months was backed by hunters who said gunfire can lead to hearing damage.
Louis Knebel, a longtime deer and pheasant hunter from Pickerington in suburban Columbus, said he’s suffered a considerable amount of hearing loss over the years. Ear muffs or plugs aren’t the best option because they diminish hunters’ awareness of their surroundings, he said.
“Safety-wise, it’s better to have your whole hearing while you’re hunting,” said Knebel, 63, a dental hygienist.
With development increasingly encroaching on hunting areas, it also makes sense to lessen the sound of gunfire, he said.
Once Ohio’s law takes effect, 34 states will allow suppressors for hunting, including all states around Ohio other than Michigan, according to the American Suppressor Association.
A 35th state, Montana, bans suppressors for traditional game – such as elk, antelope, and bear – but doesn’t enforce the ban if the animals being hunted are varmints like prairie dogs and coyotes.
Opposition to the Ohio bill was limited, though some community activists worried it could lead to hunting accidents or problems if the guns fall into the wrong hands.
“Suppressors, by design, were made for combat and law enforcement use only,” Katriel Israel, a community organizer in Akron, told lawmakers this year. “Putting these suppressors on hunting firearms increases the risk of accidental shootings.”
In a rare move, the League of Ohio Sportsmen, a pro-hunting group, also opposed the bill, on the grounds it should have been adopted as an internal rule.
Doing so would have increased input from hunters, sped up the process, and made it easier to tweak the rule if problems arose, said Larry Mitchell, the group’s executive director.
“We could have had this done and in place this hunting season had it been done administratively,” Mitchell said. “As it is, we had a 13-month legislative debate.”
The state periodically issues permits to park systems to cull deer and to airports to cull deer and other animals, such as coyotes, that might endanger aircraft. Those entities can choose to use a suppressor under the permit as long as it’s allowed by local laws, said Bethany McCorkle, a natural resources spokeswoman.
Mitchell, who supports the use of hunting suppressors, said the paperwork and expense will limit their use. A suppressor can run about $400, and hunters have to pay a $200 transfer tax and undergo a lengthy background check with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.