BOSTON — Massachusetts is among a handful of states that bans silencers, also called sound suppressors. However, some people say gun owners are finding a way around the restrictions with legally purchased kits often assembled with household items.

A proposal heard this week by the Legislature’s Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security would update the state’s ban on the devices to account for component parts that can be easily used to construct homemade silencers.

The bill’s primary, Rep. Paul Tucker, D-Salem, said ‘do-it-yourself’ silencers make it easier for criminals and potential mass-shooters to conceal their attacks.

“This is a public safety issue,” he told members of the committee. “Anybody who has studied active shooter situations knows the sound of gunfire is a trigger to get away from an area that might be harmful to them.”

Tucker said the legislation would put Massachusetts in line with federal law that has a much broader definition of illegal firearm components.

The measure is co-sponsored by Attorney General Maura Healey, a Democrat and top law enforcement official who has pushed for stronger gun control laws.

Assistant Attorney General Gina Kwon, chief of Healey’s criminal investigation bureau, told the panel that “seemingly innocuous devices” such as fuel filters are being marketed online as parts that can be easily converted into silencers.

“These items are generally legal to possess, however, with relatively easy and small modifications they become silencers,” she told the panel.

Massachusetts is one of nine of states that bans silencers. While law enforcement and manufacturers are allowed to use them, the general public cannot.

In states where they are legal, the devices are classified as a weapon and buyers must register, undergo a federal background check, and pay a tax.

Critics say lawmakers and gun control advocates are overstating the dangers of sound suppressors. While they have long been associated in Hollywood movies with gangsters and assassins, the devices have practical uses for firearm owners, such as protecting hearing, improving aim and reducing noise at shooting ranges.

“I’m not sure what problem they are trying to solve with these regulations,” said Jim Wallace, executive director of the Gun Owners Action League of Massachusetts, which is affiliated with the National Rifle Association. “There’s no need for it.”

Massachusetts is already known for adopting some of the country’s toughest gun control laws, but lawmakers are debating whether to restrict firearms access even further.

Tucker’s proposal was among dozens of measures heard Tuesday by the legislative panel. They included bills to require universal background checks on all gun sales, ban 3D printed weapons and “ghost guns,” further restrict large-capacity ammunition magazines and stiffen penalties for violating firearm laws.

Several of the proposals seek a state law banning so-called “ghost guns” that can be assembled using parts manufactured on 3D printers.

In 2018, Healey’s office issued a directive advising gun owners that plastic firearms are illegal under federal and state law because they are untraceable, do not have serial numbers and wouldn’t require a background check to print.

But gun control advocates want lawmakers to enshrine that policy in state law.

Other bills would require private sellers to conduct a transfer or sale through a licensed firearms dealer, who would run a background check on the buyer.

Licensed gun dealers are already required by federal law to screen buyers for a criminal record, history of mental illness or other factors preventing a gun sale. But background checks aren’t required for private sales at gun shows, or between family and friends.

Gun control advocates call it a “dangerous loophole” that allows criminals and mass murderers to circumvent the process.

But gun rights advocates question the need for tighter restrictions, arguing that the state’s tougher rules haven’t reduced overall gun violence here.

“The rest of the country is going in an opposite direction than Massachusetts,” Wallace said. “They’re going after the criminals, not law-abiding gun owners.”

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at

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