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The overlooked benefits of using handgun suppressors

The Truth About Silencers

To the uninitiated, silencers or sound suppressors have a very negative connotation due to their depiction in films and books as the tools of assassins, spies and criminals. However, for firearms instructors, hunters and shooters; they meet a number of needs.

In the case of instructors, one of the largest hurdles with new shooting students is the perception of recoil. Firearms are noisy by nature and coupled with the violent action of recoil; many new shooters are intimidated and their first attempts at punching holes in paper targets leave much to be desired.

Silencers reduce noise and recoil

Suppressors shouldn't really be called "silencers" because they don't really silence anything. Granted, they can sure make shooting less noisy. The effect can be quite dramatic if paired with subsonic ammunition, which are bullets that travel at less than 1,126 feet per second.

147-grain 9mm and almost all .45 ACP rounds, by the way, are subsonic. Just FYI.

What suppressors to is attenuate (reduce) noise levels by means of the internal baffling, which dissipate the energy of sound waves created by the gunshot. How much do they do so?

The typical suppressor reduces the noise of gunshot by about 30 decibels (dB). The typical gunshot produces about 160 dB to 165 dB. Therefore, the typical suppressed gunshot is about 130 dB.

Noises about 120 dB will give you hearing damage after a bit of exposure. A suppressed firearm, used with adequate hearing protection, will reduce noise levels from dangerous to hearing faculties (160 dB or more) to more manageable, at 130 dB or less.

Silencers reduce the noise to hearing-safe levels and their extra weight on the end of the barrel paired with the capture of the gasses released when a round is fired makes them extremely pleasant to shoot. So much so, that the overwhelming majority of new shooters refer to shooting a suppressed firearm as "addicting".

Silencers can increase accuracy

Suppressors on rifles and pistols not only attenuate noise, but can actually contribute to accuracy. How so?

Because you've basically added another few inches of barrel length. Sight radius on a handgun and barrel length in any rifled firearm contributes to accuracy, as that means a faster and more stable spin on the bullet.

Hunters can benefit from a suppressor in this manner, but also in other ways.

First is just like the new shooters mentioned previous with regard to the increased accuracy, reduced flash and recoil. Not only is the firing sequence made hearing safe for the hunter, but the sound reduction does not cause other potential game to flee the area as un-suppressed gun shots may cause.

For the typical shooter, suppressors offer the convenience of shooting without hearing protection as well as the benefits of increased accuracy and reduced recoil. It is unfortunate that silencers have been unfairly stigmatized by politicians and the media and hence the impression that they are illegal.

That point, again is not true.

Silencers For Guns Are Legal

Suppressors are heavily regulated at the federal level. Most states that prohibit suppressor ownership make allowances if the owner has the required Federal Tax Stamp from the NFA (National Firearms Act) Branch of the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms). In 37 states, suppressors are legal with the tax stamp.

The Federal Tax Stamp is an offshoot of the 1934 National Firearms Act. As a restricted item, the buyer must fill out an ATF Form 4 stating that they want to buy a suppressor, attach photographs, fingerprint cards and obtain written permission from the Chief Law Enforcement Officer (CLEO) in their jurisdiction. The packet is mailed to ATF with a check for $200 and the 9-month waiting period begins while ATF examiners run an FBI Background check and if everything is in order, approve the transfer.

This process has led many people to falsely believe that silencers are illegal. Another reason is the lack of familiarity with suppressors due to the process and the fact that for 10 years while the Federal Assault Weapon Ban was in place, threaded barrels (the easiest and most practical way to attach a suppressor) were a defining characteristic of a so-called assault weapon. After the ban sunsetted in 2004, new life was breathed into the suppressor industry and the new demand (along with America being engaged in the War on Terror) lead to increases in research and development to improve suppressors.

As a rule 22 long rifle, 45 ACP and 9mm Parabellum loaded to subsonic levels are the easiest rounds to suppress. Suppressors are made in models big enough to accommodate calibers such as 338 Lapua and 50 BMG, but these types deal more with reducing flash and recoil. Some special purpose cartridges such as Advanced Armament Corporation’s 300 BLACKOUT subsonic round were developed with suppressors in mind and are extremely quiet when fired through a suppressed AR-15.

Hardly the tools of spies and hit men, the modern suppressor allows the shooter the comfort of shooting without using hearing protection and is at its core, a safety device.

It is surprising that so-called advocates for “firearm safety” do not think that they should be mandatory.

Note: Some firearms enthusiasts do not like the term “silencer:” as they feel the term “sound suppressor” is more accurate. We use the terms interchangeably. First of all, the ATF classifies them as “silencers” on the various forms and that is how they are referred to in US law. The second argument is that silencers do not truly make anything silent. This author has fired some amazingly quiet pieces over the years and finds that last statement mostly without merit.


About The Author

Mike Searson is a Marine veteran and a long time shooter, martial artist and historian of fighting and combat. He has written for RECOIL Magazine, Blade Magazine, Concealed Carry, SWAT, Gun Digest, Tactical Gear and covers MMA and Professional Boxing in Nevada and California for a number of news outlets.