A military jet taking off with its afterburner on full blast. A jackhammer. A sandblaster. A freight train. A rock concert. What do these seemingly unconnected sounds all have in common? They’re significantly quieter than the sound of a gun being fired. Even one with a “silencer” attached to it.
Why is this important? Because in 2017 there was a growing movement to make it easier for gun owners to reduce the ear-piercing sounds of the guns being fired, and progressives are outraged by it. They were outraged by it because they don’t have the slightest idea how so-called gun silencers actually work. Here was what the Washington Post‘s had to say about it in an article headlined “Gun silencers are hard to buy. Donald Trump Jr. and silencer makers want to change that”:
The federal government has strictly limited the sale of firearm silencers for as long as James Bond and big-screen gangsters have used them to discreetly shoot enemies between the eyes.
The silencer industry and gun rights groups say critics are vastly overstating the dangers, arguing that Hollywood has created an unrealistic image of silencers, which they prefer to call ‘suppressors.’ They cite studies showing that silencers reduce the decibel level of a gunshot from a dangerous 165 to about 135 — the sound of a jackhammer — and that they are rarely used in crimes.
But gun-control activists say silencers are getting quieter, particularly in combination with subsonic ammunition, which is less lethal but still damaging. They point to videos on YouTube in which silencers make high-powered rifles have ‘no more sound than a pellet gun,’ according to one demonstrator showing off a silenced semiautomatic .22LR.
Note how the Washington Post waves away the actual data and science surrounding the issue by immediately characterizing the indisputable science of ballistics as nothing more than a competition between studies proponents like and opponents dislike (“They cite studies showing…”). Imagine them saying the same thing about the specifications of a car’s engine: “They cite studies showing that the car’s engine has 6 cylinders and can go up to 130 miles per hour.” You don’t need “studies” to tell you how loud a gunshot is or to tell you how loud that gunshot is when the gun has a suppressor attached. You just need a tool (or simple app on your smartphone) to measure sound.
Then there’s the Washington Post‘s characterization of a .22LR as a “high-powered rifle,” a characterization that is…not even remotely close to accurate. It’s laughably false since the .22LR caliber is one of the smallest and weakest rifle rounds on earth. On a good day, it can be used to take down small varmints that are no more than 150 yards away, and that’s it.
And don’t even get me started on the insanity of using a YouTube video as your sole source of evidence about the sound levels of suppressed and unsuppressed gunfire. Without even getting into the issue of how a recording device is incapable of capturing the pressure wave associated with a rifle blast, even if it could, your computer’s speakers don’t get close to loud enough to reproduce the actual sound of a gunshot.
But if you thought the Washington Post‘s ignorance of the issue was embarrassing, wait until you see how D-list Hollywood comedians whose entire source of knowledge on guns comes from fictional movies and TV shows tackled the subject.
Unfortunately, Black and Richter are not alone in their complete ignorance of how guns or silencers work. You’ve internalized the myths. You’ve watched the movies and heard the whisper-quiet “pew pew” as the assassin’s bullet is fired. But that’s not how suppressors actually work. Here are the facts.
Let’s start with why gunshots make the sounds they make. If you don’t understand simple ballistics, you’ll never understand the utility of a simple suppressor. A gunshot’s sound has three components: the expulsion of explosive gases that propel a bullet out of the barrel of a gun, the sonic boom of a bullet breaking the sound barrier, and the sound of the gun’s action (the hammer or striker smacking the firing pin). All of those different components combine to make the deafening noise that is a modern gunshot.
A suppressor works by redistributing the flow of explosive gases triggered by the firing of a gun (the first sound component listed above). A suppressor cannot prevent the loud sonic crack created by a bullet exceeding the speed of sound. By redirecting the flow of gas that follows the projectile out of the barrel, a suppressor can slightly reduce (but not eliminate) the sound of a standard handgun or rifle being fired. A decent suppressor for an AR-15 (.223/5.56mm) can reduce the sound of that rifle being fired by 30-35 dB.
To put things into perspective, the sound of firing an unsuppressed AR-15 — the most popular rifle platform in America — is approximately 165 decibels or dB. A jet engine from 100 feet away is approximately 140dB. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration bans employers from exposing employees to 115 decibels for more than 15 minutes per day without providing them sound mitigation or hearing protection measures.
Physical pain and potentially permanent hearing damage begins to occur at 140dB. Eardrums will begin to rupture at approximately 150dB.
For anyone who is lucky enough to have experienced shooting a firearm with a suppressor attached, you know that the gunshot was definitely quieter.
Quieter, but not silent.
If you fire an AR-15 without a suppressor and without any hearing protection, the overpressure generated by the gunshot will blow out your eardrums, as well as of those of anyone else in the near vicinity. If you were forced to defend your home from armed invaders and had to shoot one of them in a small hallway or bedroom, you and your family would suffer permanent hearing damage from the sound of the gunshot alone.
“But why don’t you just wear earplugs or over-the-ear hearing protection instead of using a suppressor?” you might ask. It’s a good question. There are a number of reasons why suppressors make sense even if you always double up on ear protection (ear plugs and over-the-ear muffs) when you’re at the range or hunting game. Standard over-the-ear hearing protection combined with the use of earplugs will reduce the sound of a gunshot by about 30-35 dB, the same reduction as a suppressor. So standard hearing protection, which is far cheaper, obviously makes more sense than getting a suppressor, right?
Wrong, for two reasons. First, sustained exposure to volumes in the 130-140 dB range, which is what you would experience shooting a typical AR-15 with doubled-up hearing protection, will undoubtedly wreak havoc on your hearing. Just ask anybody who works on a flight line or who hunts regularly. There’s no good reason to make it hard for law-abiding citizens to double-up on hearing protection and use a suppressor to reduce the likelihood of permanent hearing damage.
The second reason and the reason that bears directly on the Second Amendment right to defend yourself with arms if necessary is that home invaders are not likely to give you an extra minute or two to put the foamies in your ears and locate your earmuffs before they start murdering you and your family.
Plus, when you hear someone break into your home and you grab your gun and enter the hallway and place yourself between the intruders and your children’s bedrooms, you want to hear every last whisper and footstep so you know exactly where the home invaders are, what they’re saying, where they’re going, and how quickly they’re doing so. If you are required to shoot those intruders in that hallway, or next to your children’s bedrooms, you’ll likely neutralize them. But in the process, you’ll probably deafen yourself and your family. And for what reason? Because some Hollywood ignoramus thinks “silencers” will turn everyone into Jason Bourne?
We’ve already established that there are multiple legitimate, legal reasons for homeowners or hunters to use suppressors to protect their hearing. What about criminals, though? Wouldn’t they also desire that same increased access to the tools of every Hollywood assassin?
Not really. For starters, if a criminal wanted to make a suppressor, it wouldn’t take much time. A suppressor for a gun isn’t much different than a muffler for a car. It’s a tube of metal with some baffles inside. That’s it. It takes far more time, effort, money, and expertise to build your own rifle in your garage (a process that is entirely legal) than it does to make your own suppressor (a felony). So why aren’t criminals building their own suppressors in droves?
Because it doesn’t make any sense for them to do so. Why? Because as we now know, so-called silencers don’t make anything silent. They merely take something that is deafening and make it not-deafening. At the same time, they make a firearm heavier, longer, less accurate, and therefore less lethal. Criminals tend to use firearms that are cheap, easy to find, and easy to conceal. Suppressed guns are anything but that.
Then there’s the fact that overwhelming majority of handguns, which are used in 90 percent of gun murders in the U.S. where the type of gun is known, are physically incapable of even accepting a silencer. That’s because a gun must have a threaded barrel to accept a silencer. Since threaded barrels are expensive and in far shorter supply than non-threaded barrels, your average criminal looking for a quick score has little to no interest in acquiring a gun that has one. Suppressors aren’t cheap, they aren’t easy to conceal, and it’s really difficult to find guns that can even accept them. When you know these facts, you can understand why suppressors are never used by criminals. They’re just not worth the cost or the hassle.
And in fact, it’s this kind of thinking, that initially led to suppressors being put in as part of the National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA). Even back in 1934, gun-grabbers were out to make sure as few people had access to firearms as possible, let alone anything they thought would make firearms more deadly.
As part of the NFA, lots of legal hurdles were put in place to make it as annoyingly difficult as possible for individuals to buy suppressors.
Today, while it is not impossible to buy a suppressor, you must:
- Live in a state where suppressors are legal (sorry CA, NY, or any of the 8 states that hate the 2A);
- Send in an application to the ATF, including fingerprints and a passport photo;
- Pay a $200 tax; and
- Notify your local chief law enforcement officer.
After you’ve done all that, you just need to wait up to 14 months to see if you are approved for your suppressor!
Oh, also, your information will be entered into a database of suppressor owners. Just your typical Big Brother stuff. No big deal.
If you live in a state where suppressors are legal, congratulations on living in the United States of America! Just follow those steps, shell out the $200, and wait over a year to get your suppressor. If you don’t, know that 42 other states allow for legal ownership of suppressors. That’s over 80% of the country. Just saying.
And no, the $200 isn’t a typo. There might be typos somewhere else in this article, but that $200 isn’t one of them. That amount was set when the NFA was passed back in 1934, with the idea that charging a high tax would discourage people from even bothering to try and buy a suppressor. In 2019 dollars, the $200 tax would be a little under $3800. With that kind of money, most people would probably spend it on more guns or ammo rather than on buying a single suppressor.
The good news is that the $200 tax has not changed since 1934. The bad news is that nothing else in the NFA has changed either. The same hurdles are still in place as they were over 80 years ago.
A New Challenger Has Appeared!
Luckily for us, some of the representatives in elected office are actually trying to do their jobs and, you know, REPRESENT the voters.
Weird concept, I know.
What’s more, these representatives have been making a push in recent years, as early as 2015, in removing some of the obstacles in our way to getting suppressors.
The Hearing Protection Act (HPA) was introduced by a Republican House Representative from Arizona back in 2015. If passed, the law would have removed suppressors from the NFA and made the requirements for getting a suppressor the same as those for buying long guns. Basically, buying a suppressor would just require a background check through the NCIS database to make sure you aren’t a criminal, and you’d be good to go.
For some reason, allowing hunters and firearms owners to protect their hearing by placing the same requirements that allow people to own guns onto the purchase and ownership of suppressors wasn’t all that popular with our elected officials, and so the HPA bill never went anywhere.
In 2017, there was another push for the HPA, but it was inserted as part of the SHARE Act, which was a pro-2A bill that was aimed at reducing unnecessary burdens on hunters, fishermen, and gun-owners.
The SHARE Act, in addition to increasing federal funding for public shooting ranges and opening more federal lands to hunting, fishing, and shooting, would have removed suppressors from the NFA, eliminated the $200 tax, and required the destruction of the registration records of current suppressor owners.
Even with a Republican majority in the House of Representatives and the Senate, the SHARE Act didn’t get anywhere, and so died again.
Now, in 2019, the HPA has been reintroduced as its own bill, with basically the same goals as the 2015 and 2017 versions. Unfortunately, with a Democrat majority in the House of Representatives, it’s likely going to suffer the same fate as the previous attempts, and die out before it gets anywhere.
While you can hold out hope for some miracle that the HPA 2019 will pass the House, make it through the Senate, and eventually to the President’s desk to be signed into law, the best chance gun-owners have at having the HPA pass would be if Republicans were able to regain the House and maintain their majority in the Senate in the 2020 elections. That means we need to get out and vote. Even you, guy reading this blog on the toilet.
But There’s More
If the HPA is re-introduced once again in 2021, as it was in 2015, 2017, and 2019, and manages to pass through Congress and is signed by President Trump, then get ready to line up for your suppressor orders, because everyone and their grandma will be at the local gun store trying to get their hands on one.
Of course, the HPA passing into law doesn’t do much good for the gun-owners living in states where suppressors are illegal. For those gun-owners, you’ll have to travel to a neighboring state to try out a suppressor and see what you’ve been missing out on.
And who knows, it may be just the kick in the butt you need to convince you to move to a free state. If not, you can always stay behind enemy lines and try to win back some of your 2A rights at the ballot box with your fellow gun-owners.
For the time being, it’s unlikely any progress will be made in the law, at least until 2021 if the Republicans can regain the majority in the House, and the Senate and White House remain under Republican control.
The only issue is that now even President Trump doesn’t sound too keen on silencers and it’s very likely that they might suffer the same fate as bump stocks. Which doesn’t sound too appealing? In fact, it sounds like a step in the wrong direction. Backward. There’s been no call to action from the President, yet. Hopefully, there won’t be. Hopefully, they will get this bill passed and the ATF will have to deal with the blue balls.
In the meantime, we can all go out and inform our fellow gun-owning friends, and even those who aren’t interested in firearms, on why suppressors aren’t the scary tubes that make guns silent, but are actually just useful tools to help preserve our hearing so we can continue to hear the sweet sounds of our rounds hitting steel downrange.