By Tom Mchale
USA –-(Ammoland.com)- Firearm silencers remain a mystery in more ways than one.
Are they legal? Can you buy one? Can anyone else use it? Do they really silence a gunshot?
Has Hollywood completely misrepresented yet another gun safety topic?
In this article, I want to focus on the fun part – using and shooting silencers, but first let’s take a quick look at how to legally get one. After all, you can’t shoot what you don’t have.
Buying a Silencer
As of this writing, 39 states have some legal provision for private silencer ownership. Yeah, I know, it’s none of the government's business. And that leads me to the next point. Check out the American Suppressor Association. They’re a consortium of companies and individuals who are trying to fix ridiculous things like onerous regulation of mufflers for guns.
Since silencers fall under jurisdiction of the 1934 National Firearms act, there are two ways you can own one, both of which are regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
First, you can fill out a Form 4, Application for Tax Paid Transfer and Registration of Firearm.
This method is a bit of a pain as you have to submit fingerprints and get a signature of a local law enforcement official. Some designated LE folks will sign your application, and some won’t. The dealer who sells you a silencer will help you navigate the process.
Second, you can set up a trust. That’s a legal entity that “purchases and owns” the silencer. The benefit is (for now away) that you don’t need fingerprints or a local law enforcement signature. Also, four individuals can be members of the trust and all will have legal access to use the silencers owned by the trust. The drawback is it will cost you some extra cash, but I think it’s worth it. I set up one with GunTrust.com, and it was a piece of cake.
With either method, you have to buy the silencer, pay for it, and then submit paperwork to the BATFE for approval along with a check for $200. Then you wait. And wait. And wait. The approval system is hopelessly backlogged, and the current peanut gallery in Washington doesn't seem to be in any big hurry to fix the process. That’s one of the things the American Suppressor Association as well as the NSSF are working to change.
Note that I’ve been using the words silencer and suppressor interchangeably. The correct term for the invention is silencer, based on the name “Maxim Silencer” invented by Hiram Percy Maxim back in 1902. The industry called these devices suppressors for a long time but have recently shifted back to the term silencers.
Now let’s get into the fun stuff. It’s a big topic, so for this installment, let’s focus on pistol caliber silencers as their design and function cover the bases. We’ll refer to a SilencerCo Octane 45 as it’s a great example of a versatile pistol and subsonic rifle suppressor.
I chose a handgun silencer for this article because of its versatility. Depending on the brand and model you choose, you may be able to shoot multiple pistol calibers and low pressure rifle rounds through the same silencer. For maximum flexibility, you can buy an “oversized” silencer.
For example, I bought a SilencerCo Octane 45. You can mount the Octane 45 on a .45 caliber handgun, a .40 S&W, a 9mm, a .380 or even a .22LR. This particular model is also rated for use with subsonic 300 AAC Blackout rounds so you can stick it on a rifle. Just limit rifle shooting to subsonic velocities, else the moon might veer off course, and ultimately crash into Kentucky.
There are a couple of pros and cons to the oversize approach. The biggest benefit is flexibility to use the silencer on a variety of different guns. Considering the cost of suppressors and the $200 each so called “tax“, we're talking real money to buy a dedicated model for each gun you want to suppress.
There are two minor drawbacks: First, the silencer for a larger caliber will be, larger. The diameter of the Octane 9mm and 45 models is the same at 1.375 inches, but the Octane is a full one inch longer, measuring 8.7 inches. Weight of the 45 model is about an ounce and a half heavier. Second, the amount of sound reduction will be a bit less when you shoot a smaller caliber out of a larger suppressor. A decibels or two, but it makes a difference. However, due to the larger volume of a bigger caliber suppressor, you’ll hear a tonal change. So the perceived sound difference is not a big deal in my view. It will just sound a bit different.
How big a difference in sound, you ask? There are infinite variables, so we’ll use “pretty close” numbers. A standard 230 grain .45 ACP, unsuppressed, will generate about 162 decibels. The same round fired through a 45 caliber suppressor will be quieted to somewhere near the 133 decibel range. Remember that decibels operate on a logarithmic scale, not linear, so that 29 decibel reduction is a big deal.
When you shoot a .40 S&W 180 grain round through the same .45 caliber silencer, you’ll hear about 130 decibels of noise. A 147 grain 9mm round fired through the same configuration will generate about 127 decibels. To compare, if we had used the 9mm Octane, the sound would have perhaps one decibel less. Not a big difference, is there?
All three calibers fired through the Octane 45 fall in the 127 to 133 decibel range. How loud is that?
- 70dB: That's the sound of a running a vacuum cleaner or standing 50 feet away from the freeway.
- 80db: Your garbage disposal.
- 100dB: A lawnmower. The complicated logarithmic scale means that 100dB is about eight times as loud as 70dB.
- 115dB: Remember that Nirvana concert? No? Well trust me then, a lot of it was in this volume range.
- 125dB: Pain begins.
- 140db: Immediate and permanent hearing damage. This is the approximate noise level on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier.
Multi-caliber use is one example of versatility. The other relates to firearm action type. Many modern pistol caliber suppressors feature a “booster” to help ensure reliable operation with recoil operated semi-automatic firearms. With the design that most all 9mm and up firearms use, the barrel moves rearward as part of the fire, eject and reload sequence. When the additional weight of the silencer is added to the barrel, the careful balance of forces is thrown out of whack and reliability can suffer.
The SilencerCo Octane uses a variety of mounting options to customize the unit to different gun types. If you’re mounting the Octane on a rifle or pistol with a fixed barrel, you use a standard thread mount that rigidly affixes the silencer to the barrel. If you’re mounting the Octane on a gun with recoil operation (moving barrel) then you use a booster mount. The booster mount is simply a piston and spring assembly the provides flex between the barrel and silencer itself. When you fire the gun, the gasses push the silencer body away from the muzzle, compressing the booster spring. As the firing sequence completes, the silencer body springs back towards the gun, aiding the rearward movement of the gun barrel.
Shooting with a silencer brings a whole new level of joy. While there is still noise, it’s entirely different. Think of a loud “whooshing” and “hissing” sound instead of an abrupt blast. The reduction of the muzzle blast makes shooting without hearing protection possible and also is a great way to introduce new shooters. Without the explosion in front of their face, the tendency to flinch and lean backwards is greatly diminished.
The one thing you’ll need to consider is the sight picture. With a 1.375 inch diameter, the Octane is likely to partially or fully block standard iron sights.
I shot the Octane 45 with a Glock 31 using a .40 S&W caliber Lone Wolf threaded barrel. I equipped the Glock with Crimson Trace Lasergrips, and the laser beam was not blocked by the suppressor.
Yes, this was exceptionally fun!
One thing that surprised me was the “mellowness” of the .40 S&W when suppressed. As a higher pressure round, I expected the .40 to be less awesomely quiet, but it was a pleasant and silent surprise.
I also used the Octane 45 with a Beretta 92 equipped with Crimson Trace Lasergrips. And yes, this was also great fun. Both configurations worked beautifully with a grip mounted laser. A rail laser will work equally well for guns so equipped.
On both configurations, I fired subsonic and supersonic ammo. The suppressor benefits both ammo types as the blast is muffled. However, when using supersonic ammo (over 1,130 feet per second or so depending on your atmospheric conditions) you will still hear a crack from the sonic boom as the projectile travels down range. One surprise was the ability to hear bullets “whizzing” down range without the full effect or normal muzzle blast. That was quite entertaining.
While the continued regulation, tax and ridiculous processing times make owning a silencer an undue pain, they sure are fun. More importantly they provide another layer of safety for hearing of shooters, bystanders and neighbors.
Why the continued regulation? I just don’t know. Does someone really believe that deregulation of silencers will increase crime?
That’s a ridiculous argument consistent with thinking speeding violations increase when you put mufflers on cars. Keep the pressure on your elected weasels. You know, the ones that are supposed to represent you.
About Tom Mchale
Tom McHale is the author of the Insanely Practical Guides ( www.insanelypracticalguides.com ) book series that guides new and experienced shooters alike in a fun, approachable, and practical way. His books are available in print and eBook format on Amazon. You can also find him on Google+, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.