Wednesday, June 08, 2016

An Interview with Josh Waldron, CEO of SilencerCo on Suppressor Legislation

This is part 1 of a 2 part series. At the NRA annual meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, I was able to talk to Josh Waldron, CEO of SilencerCo.  Josh is more than a visionary.  He is a man who acted on his vision, and is changing the gun culture and the national culture.  Josh has always been independent.  He had a successful career as a photographer before co-founding SilencerCo in 2008.  From
After 12 years as a photographer, Waldron became restless in his career, and, Coincidentally his long time childhood friend, Jonathon Shults, was also looking for other opportunities. Together they were drawn to the suppressor industry because they saw market potential that could not be ignored. They found that all the existing suppressor companies had rather antiquated technology, poor customer service, and subpar marketing, not to mention that the suppressor industry was an obscure market that not many people knew existed. Waldron and Shults felt like this obscure industry had amazing potential. They believed that if they started a company that focused on innovation, customer service, marketing, and consumer education, they could create a much bigger market.
I asked Josh about the future of silencers and silencer legislation. The National Firearms Act (NFA), passed in 1934, imposes severe regulation and a $200 tax on legal silencers.

Do you have a plan, and can you tell me about it?

"It starts as education. Ever since we started the company in 2008, we have had a focus on education and advocacy.  When I first started the company there were only 18,000 silencers sold in the United States each year, and that was every manufacturer.

I did several surveys around the country, and only 3% of the firearms community actually knew that silencers were legal to purchase.  When we started to work on our marketing plan, this is back in L.A., when we were forming the company, I said, why don't we spend 99% of our market dollars on education?"

"As we get into the market, we continue to spend money on education and advocacy.  Which is why I am involved with the NRA, which is why I am on the board of the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation.  I am a founder of the American Suppressor Association.

I am constantly working on those efforts to mainstream suppressors.

From the time we have started until now, there were 18,000 then, we are now selling about 18,000 silencers every month, just SilencerCo.

In the last five years, this has been the fastest growing segment of the firearms industry."

Do you fear that removal of suppressors from the NFA (National Firearms Act) will cut into your profit margin?

"I don't think so.  We don't get to take full benefit of the economies of scale. We have to order materials on a small batch basis. As we increase the number of suppressors going out the door we decrease the amount that it costs us.  We haven't pushed it to the level where are seeing those economies of scale."

Lets talk about the Hearing Protection Act, the HPA, on the national level.   There are now about 42 states that have done away with most legal impediments, at the state level, to owning a suppressor.

"So 42 states where you can legally purchase a suppressor. There are 39 of those states where you can legally hunt with a suppressor. Almost 40, New Hampshire has passed legislation that is on the way to the Governor's desk.  When I started this, there were only 22 states for hunting and 38 for ownership."

You have made tremendous progress.  There is no questioning it. Part of what I see is that states see the federal legislation in place.  A strategy that I see is to get a supermajority, which you now have, in the states, then remove the federal legislation.

"You would think that is a good strategy.  However a lot of those states, the 42 states reference the National Firearms Act branch of the ATF in the law. The way that we have the HPA written on the federal level insures that when suppressors are removed from the NFA branch, it doesn't automatically make suppressors illegal in the states where it references the NFA.  That took a long time to draft that language correctly so that would be retroactive.

The biggest strategy that we have seen is to educate, and that is what it always has always been about.  Even if you don't like firearms, even if you are an anti-gun person, after you understand what a suppressor is and what it does, you can't in good conscience say anything negative about because it makes the gun safer.

If you are an anti-gun guy, if you cannot outright ban the firearm, why not make the firearm safer? That is why we have been able to build a lot of momentum and get a lot done.  On the state level we have had 90 percent on both sides of the House and Senate vote yea on our bills.  90 percent.  That is a huge bipartisan issue.  There are a lot of bills these days that have been passing these days with that 90 percent bi-partisan approval level in both houses."

I am assuming that President Obama is why this bill has not gone forward, because of the veto threat.

"The veto is going to be there.  A lot of things get taken care of in conference. We are looking for committee members to allow it to get into committee, on to the committee floor, and onto the floor of the House and the Senate."

Do you expect it to pass before the next presidential election?

"No.  This is an education effort.  This is getting everyone spun up, so that when we do get Trump in the White House, he is going to be the guy that signs that bill, and he will sign that bill."

What is your strategy; to announce Trump support, or to ask for Trump support during the presidential campaign?  He has come out strongly in favor of the Second Amendment, but he has not referenced the NFA particularily.

He hasn't, no.  We don't imagine that he will get that deep in the weeds, and come out in favor of smaller issues, other than overall Second Amendment support."

You do not expect that to be an issue in the presidential campaign?

"I don't think so. That is just too particular, and he needs to be more broadly focused.

The good news is that his sons put pictures on social media of them shooting our products. I know that the Trump family has fun with suppressors and they understand the process of getting a suppressor with the NFA branch. A lot of the problem is that it is a very complicated process, and when you go in and have five minutes with a legislator, it is a lot to teach them about.  With the Trump family, they are already spun up, so it will be relatively easy.  We are excited about it."

"He (Trump) is a little bit crazy.  But I am a little bit crazy, so I relate to him."

You are a founder, maybe the founder of the ASA (American Suppressor Association).

"I am one of the founders of the ASA, there are three of us that started it."

How many lobbyists do you have?

"We have three lobbyists right now."

Those are paid lobbyists?

"Yes. One of our best strategies however, is we created a very meaningful relationship with the NRA. The NRA's lobbyists are not doing our bidding. They are doing the right thing. Our issues are their issues."

You are on the NRA committee for legislative strategy. So they are on board with the whole idea of removing silencers from the NFA?

"Yes. Absolutely."

You mentioned the specifics of this legislation, which I find interesting.  It is worded in such a way as to say that state laws are in compliance with the NFA.

"It went back and forth with the legal department of the  NRA and with Congressman Salmon."

Which congressman?

"Matt Salmon of Arizona.  He is the one who sponsored the bill.

Basically, we wanted to say that any state where it is legal, will stay legal, and any state where it is illegal, will stay illegal.

To be honest with you, the NFA branch themselves,the ATF themselves, three months ago released data to show that there have only been 12 instances, that is over two decades, I think, where crimes have been committed.  But they are not sure if they are crimes that were committed by people who own suppressors, or crimes that were committed with suppressors.

This is not an issue. Why would it make a difference whether it is an instant background check or it is an six months background check?  What we are asking for is an instant background check."

So the law we are looking, the Hearing Protection Act, would put suppressors in the same category as pistols, or rifles and shotguns?

"Long guns. So you could buy multiple items."

How long is the bill?  Is it 50 pages?

"No. The legislation is actually fairly short.  It is available on the congressional web site."

Do you export much?

"We export, yes. We can't export to the commercial market. Only to the military and law enforcement.  It is a State Department thing.

We have a bill right now, it is called the Suppressor Export Act. Congressman Jeff Stewart is the one that is sponsoring that bill for us.  It would ensure that the State Department would have to allow us to take part in the world market, that is available, that we are not able to take part in right now.

We can only export to law enforcement and military, but not to the commercial market. But with this bill, we would be able to export to everybody. If there is a country where it is legal to have suppressors, we would be allowed to export to them.

There are suppressor manufacturers all over the world, and they sell all over the world.  The United States is the only place where they are this regulated. It is just crazy.  You can go to the UK, where it is really hard to own a gun, and you can buy a suppressor over the counter, without a background check."

"We are behind the curve when it comes to the rest of the world."

Link to Part 2

©2016 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.
Link to Gun Watch


Anonymous said...

Dean, I believe the word is "lobbyist", not "lobbyest". Good interview otherwise, keep up the good fight for POTG.

Dean Weingarten said...

Thank you for the correction.

Fixed it.