Meet the gun-loving, indie-music-listening, hipster-beard-growing millennial entrepreneurs disrupting the gun industry.
Out on the horizon, halfway to Cuba, jagged streaks of lightning illuminate the still waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Inside a Key West resort, a group of men congregate outside a private dining room. Several have the noticeable bulge of barely concealed firearms. A few are dressed in pastels approximating the look of the 1980s television show Miami Vice.
The crowd in the dining room is almost exclusively white and male. There are some obvious ex-military men, an assortment of press and a few punkish action-sports types. On a small stage are several covered display cases framed by two large video screens. An intense-looking man in his 30s named Josh Waldron takes the podium. He is a co-founder of SilencerCo, a company that designs and sells high-tech gun silencers. He and his colleagues are in Key West to introduce several new products: the Hybrid, a silencer the Hybrid, a silencer compatible with pistols, rifles and submachine guns; the Radius, a mounted range finder; and their newest product, a futuristic, angular-looking pistol with a built-in silencer called the Maxim 9, which is a dead ringer for RoboCop’s service weapon.
But these tools of combat are being target-marketed to an unexpected crowd. Imagine a New York City coffeehouse. The customers are in their 20s and ironically tattooed. They sip fair-trade coffee and stare at a line of silvery MacBooks. Now imagine a large percentage of them armed with concealed weapons. Sure, it’s an unlikely scenario. But if middle-class kids raised on first-person-shooter games such as Call of Duty were to eventually transition from online to actual firearms, it might not be far off. The gun debate tends to be defined by the fringes: bird-sanctuary-occupying “patriots” on one side, angry Birkenstock-wearing vegans on the other. The rest of us…well, we’re probably more in the middle than we might admit. We abhor mass shootings, but we don’t object to a whole lot of gunplay in our movies. We love animals, but we eat tons of meat. So when a company like SilencerCo sets its sights on so-called hipsters and racks up more than 250,000 Instagram followers while indie-rock darling Ryan Adams has fewer than 100,000, all bets are off.
If you think gun silencers are illegal, you’re not alone. Now often referred to as “suppressors,” they’re legal in 41 states. That said, they remain intensely regulated as part of the National Firearms Act of 1934, alongside machine guns, short-barreled shotguns and rifles. Most admit the inclusion of silencers in that list has much to do with a combination of Depression-era poaching fears and a history of bad press that has marked them, according to the American Suppressor Association, as “assassins’ tools.”
Advocates for suppressors, including the folks at SilencerCo, argue that the devices merely protect the hearing of the nearly one in three Americans who legally own and shoot firearms. In addition, SilencerCo’s artfully designed website touts an increase in accuracy due to less noise and recoil. The company has mounted a combined political and marketing campaign called “The Hearing Protection Act” that includes a #FightTheNoise hashtag along with photos of men, women and children with duct tape over their mouths holding suppressed firearms. It calls fellow suppressor advocates “the Suppressed”—a term the company has trademarked. And while the campaign undoubtedly makes some valid points regarding logic and legality, it all evokes a victim mentality not dissimilar from much of the so-called patriot movement.
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