FARGO, N.D. (AP) - Business at Dakota Silencers, a company that makes suppressors for hunting rifles, has been so good in the last couple of years that owner Brandon Maddox quit his job as a pharmacist.
But one of Maddox's busiest days in the new year came when word got out that North Dakota lawmakers were debating a bill that would legalize the device.
"People were concerned," Maddox said. "They called me and said, 'I thought that was already legal. What's going on?' "
Some lawmakers also were initially surprised at the proposal, especially the non-hunters in North Dakota's governing body. They found out that a silencer isn't really silent and there has never been a rule in North Dakota prohibiting or allowing them, said Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks.
"It may have caused a little ruckus at first glance," Mock told lawmakers while summarizing the bill, which then breezed through the Republican-dominated House two weeks ago with only two people opposing the measure. It now goes before the Senate.
Mock said use of suppressors for hunting is legal in at least 37 states, including neighboring South Dakota and Minnesota. A bill to make the devices legal in Montana has passed its Senate, and has been introduced in the House.
Republican Rep. Joe Heilman, of Fargo, said he sponsored the bill merely to get the practice on the books.
"While state Game and Fish allows the usage of properly licensed and acquired suppressors, there was nothing in state statute in regard to the use of them," Heilman said. "So . if Game and Fish someday wanted to disallow it, they could, without any legislative input."
The two legislators who voted against the North Dakota bill Tracy Boe, D-Mylo, and Patrick Hatlestad, R-Williston did not respond to requests for comment.
Some hunters prefer to refer to the devices as suppressors, because calling them silencers conjures up images of James Bond or some other big-screen assassin firing a weapon that barely emits a hiss. Guns that use suppressors can still be heard from a distance, said Dan Liane, a Fargo hunter and board member of United Sportsmen of North Dakota.