Firearm Suppressor Basics: Who Can Own One and Why You Should
by Mike Garman
We all know that during the zombie apocalypse noise will attract walkers, this is the main reason that the characters in the popular television show The Walking Dead use suppressors either homemade or purpose built. But what is a suppressor? Suppressors or silencers have long been the stuff of movies and TV, and there are a lot of misconceptions about what a suppressor is, how it works and the legalities of owning one. Suppressors are covered by the National Firearms ACT (NFA) ATF E-Publication 5320.8 Revised: April 2009, this document defines what a silencer or suppressor is. If you have never read any kind of federal rule such as the NFA, it will give you a headache. Section 2.1.7 of the NFA defines a silencer as:
A firearm silencer and a firearm muffler are defined as any device for silencing,
muffling, or diminishing the report of a portable firearm.18 Firearm silencers are generally composed of an outer tube, internal baffles, a front end cap, and a rear end cap.
This section goes on to say “The definition of a silencer also includes any combination of parts, designed or redesigned, and intended for use in assembling or fabricating a firearm silencer or firearm muffler.”
This quite simply means that any piece or part that can be used to make or repair a suppressor is a suppressor and is controlled just like a fully assembled suppressor.
At the federal level anyone can own a suppressor if they meet the basic rules, fill out the forms, get the local Police Chief or Sheriff to sign off on it and pay the $200 tax. However there are still many states, especially in the Northeast, that do not allow an individual to own one.
The basic rules:
• Must be 21 years of age or older when purchasing from a dealer. Typically, if you can buy a handgun, you can buy a silencer.
• Must not have been convicted of a felony or pleaded guilty to any domestic violence charge(s)
• Must be a legal United States resident.
Then you must also reside in one of the 39 states that allow private ownership: AL, AR, AK, AZ, CO, CT, FL, GA, ID, IN, KY, LA, ME, MD, MS, MT, NE, NV, NH, NM, NC, OH, OK, OR, PA, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, WA**, WI, and WY. If your state isn’t listed here, you will not be able to own a silencer.
Once a suppressor is transferred to you can’t loan it to a friend and you cannot take it out of the state you live in unless you file the correct paperwork.
** Washington State allows possession, but not the use of silencers.
Why you should own one:
The simply reason for owning a suppressor is noise reduction, not only during range practice but also for hunting. A suppressor can significantly reduce a firearm’s sound acoustic, which is good for preventing hearing loss, reducing noise that can scare off animal targets, and preventing unwanted attention from the living dead.
How a suppressor works:
To put it simply a suppressor is a muffler for you firearm and it works just like the muffler on your car. A suppressor redirects and slows down the high pressure gas from firing the weapon. A suppressor can be made out of just about anything, but it is usually a tube attached the barrel of a firearm. This tube would have holes in it to redirect the gas to a series of baffles or chambers which bleed off gases into the chambers and slow it down thus reducing the sound of the shot. The tube and baffles would be in an enclosure or “can” it can be made out of high-tech materials like carbon fiber and titanium or as low tech as a 2 liter pop bottle with some water in it. A suppressor can be purchased from a Class III FFL for a couple of hundred dollars to several thousands of dollars, plus the $200 tax stamp.
As long as you follow the rules you could make your own, but remember once you do that you open yourself up to inspections by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and as mentioned above any part of a suppressor is a suppressor.
One thing to keep in mind a suppressor does not make firing a weapon completely silent, but it will reduce the sound signature to the point where you don’t need ear plugs and muffs but hearing protection is still required for prolonged exposure. As an example a .22LR makes about 160 db, and with a good suppressor you might be able to reduce that to about 120 db. Besides the sound made by the explosion and expanding gas, the bullet itself will make noise as it goes super sonic. Using sub-sonic ammunition will fix this problem, but keep in mind that in a semi-automatic a sub-sonic round may not have enough energy to cycle the action.
Over the years suppressors have been used in movies and television by good guys and bad guys, and attached to just about anything you can think of and just about any type of firearm that uses a closed bolt can be suppressed. My definition of a closed bolt is a firearm where the firing chamber is sealed. This can be a semi-auto, single shot, bolt action, handgun, rifle, shotgun or machine gun. Contrary to what they show in older television shows and movies a revolver cannot be fully suppressed. The gap between the cylinder and the barrel allows expanding gas to escape which defeats the purpose of a suppressor. There is however on revolver that can be suppressed that that is the Mosin Nagant M1895 revolver chambered in, 7.62×38mmR, and featured a very unusual “gas-seal” system, where the cylinder moved forward when the gun was cocked, sealing the gap between the cylinder and the barrel. Among other things this allows the weapon to be suppressed. My research shows that this is the only mass produced revolver that can be suppressed.
Suppressors have long been seen as a tool used by assassins and spies with a license to kill, but changing laws around the county are making the use of a suppressor for hunting and target shooting common place. As their use becomes more accepted the number of manufactures goes up as well as the quality while the price goes down. And if you live in a state where it is illegal to own a suppressor, hopefully with the changing attitudes around the country your state will soon follow suit and allow their use.