In the world of firearms, suppressors or silencers are the great taboo — and, at the same time, the Holy Grail of things that are fun and way cool. The general public’s basic image of the silencer has always been the Chicago gangster whacking a rival, or an assassin creeping up behind his target.
The reality is most shooters probably have never seen a suppressor up close, let alone handled or used one. Because of that, there is a lot of inaccurate, misinformed or just plain wrong information out there regarding these devices. Many people feel that silencers are such a small part of the shooting game that they really don’t need much consideration anyway. But something like 1.5 million are currently in private ownership in the United States — so apparently there are a whole lot more out there than I ever imagined.
The sound a gun makes when fired is extremely loud. That anything can deaden the sound seems pretty far-fetched, but a suppressor can tame the noise. Lots of people have tried, but no one has even come close to inventing a device that totally silences a gun. Most modern silencers will drop the sound by about 20 to 40 decibels, bringing it down to the range that won’t harm your hearing, which means that the sound might go from 160 dB to the 130 dB range. This would be somewhat near what a loud handclap or slamming a heavy book down on a table would sound like.
Silencers actually work on a pretty simple principle. Take a balloon and pop it with a pin and you get a loud bang. Now take the same balloon and release the air by opening the inlet hole, or even pop it with a pin with the inlet hole open, and you get very little noise. A silencer works basically the same way.
Most of the noise when you fire a gun is the high-pressure gases being suddenly released when the bullet leaves the barrel. A suppressor has a series of baffles that bleed the gas pressures off. A silencer screwed on the barrel has 20 or 30 times the air volume than the barrel itself, so the gases have a big area in which to expand, which causes the pressures to fall off significantly. When the pressure’s lower, the sound produced will be softer.
A largely unknown fact is that the first shot will still be quite loud (called “first-shot pop”) while follow-up shots become quieter. That’s because the gases have to get into the unit to make it really work well.
So if you’re not an assassin, why would you want to use a suppressor on your gun? A silencer will (to some degree) act as a muzzle brake, reducing felt recoil by a noticeable amount. Another benefit is that reducing the sound will also assist you in not pushing the gun when it is fired. We all anticipate the Big Bang and tend to push on the gun when we pull the trigger. If you take the loud sound away, you’ll have better control over the gun and shoot more accurately.
At the range, the noise reduction is also a great benefit for all the other shooters nearby. When I’m training a novice shooter and someone next to me is shooting a short-barreled .44 Mag, it’s often impossible to keep my trainee tuned into my instructions. With a suppressed weapon in the next position over, it’s a lot easier to instruct. Even with good ear protection, I often leave the range with my ears feeling like they have had a workout.
Think of all the places you probably could shoot if the sound didn’t annoy others. President Teddy Roosevelt took advantage of this and was a big fan of suppressors. He had one installed on one of his favorite rifles, a Model 94 Winchester, which he shot at his home on Long Island so he would not annoy his neighbors.
Some states allow suppressors for hunting purposes, so when you fire a shot it doesn’t affect other hunters as much. However, a supersonic rifle bullet creates its own sound as it breaks the sound barrier. The noise of the gun will be reduced, but the crack of the bullet going downrange will not be affected.
Are you starting to think maybe a silencer does have some merit after all? Maybe you’re wondering how to get one. Coming right up — but first let’s take a look at a few more facts and history. In 1934, the government made a lot of new rules for firearms. One of them was a $200 tax on silencers. It became a big deterrent on their purchase — in those days, $200 was a heckuva lot of money. Well, over the years, the cost has stayed the same, so now it’s a pretty good deal.
According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (that’s a crazy mix, isn’t it?), a suppressor and a silencer are the same thing. These devices are BATFE-regulated, and a tax stamp is required. The registration process is very thorough, and a wait of four to six months is not uncommon until your paperwork is approved or denied.
There are three ways to obtain a tax stamp for a suppressor: Get your county sheriff to sign off for you on paper; a corporation based in the State of Florida can do it; or set up a living trust, which can be arranged by an attorney. All these options can be somewhat complicated, and I’m not going to get into all the legal stuff, so you may want somebody knowledgeable in that area to assist you if you want to actually acquire one. Here’s a hint: The shops that sell them can usually walk you through it.
Well, shooters, that’s all for now. I hope I’ve cleared up at least a few of the mysteries regarding silencers. Safe (and quiet) shooting.
Billy Carl is an NRA-certified firearms instructor and is available for individual instruction in firearms safety and concealed carry classes. Contact him at 941-769-0767 or through J&J One Stop Gun Shop at 2324 Tamiami Trail, Port Charlotte.