Firearm Suppressors

Summary

Similar to a car muffler, a suppressor traps expanding gas at the muzzle of the gun and allows it to cool, lowering the sound signature of a firearm. Contrary to popular belief, suppressors do not completely silence firearms; rather they help to mitigate the potentially dangerous noise associated with firearms. Even the most effective suppressors on the smallest calibers reduce the peak sound level of a gunshot to around 110-120 decibel (dB). Realistically, suppressors are a useful tool for recreational shooting and hunting, allowing for better hearing protection, reduced recoil, and increased accuracy.

Introduction

Suppressors, also known as silencers, are the hearing protection of the 21st century sportsman and woman. Despite common myths and misconceptions, suppressors do not actually silence host firearms.233 Engineered to reduce the sound signature of a gunshot, minimize felt recoil, and increase accuracy, suppressors are quickly becoming the favored accessory of shooters nationwide. They work by trapping the expanding gasses at the muzzle of a firearm, allowing them to slowly cool, in a similar fashion to car mufflers.234 By decreasing the overall sound signature, suppressors help to protect the hearing of recreational shooters, hunters, and hunting dogs around the world.

Issue

Even the most effective suppressors on the smallest calibers, like .22 LR, reduce the peak sound level of a gunshot to around 108-120 decibels (dB). To put that in perspective, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), that is as loud as a jackhammer (110 dB) or an ambulance siren (120 dB). The best suppressors reduce the peak sound level to around 130-150 dB. While this is a tremendous reduction in noise level, it is still as loud as a jet engine at takeoff (140 dB). Although there is variation, well-engineered suppressors generally reduce noise levels by about 20-35 dB, roughly the same amount as a high-quality pair of earplugs or earmuffs. Since most hunters do not wear hearing protection in the field because they want to hear their surroundings, suppressors offer a practical and effective alternative type of hearing protection.

Opponents of suppressor use for hunting often posit that their legalization will result in an increase in poaching incidents.242 This position is largely based on the misconception that suppressors completely silence firearms. States that have recently legalized their use have seen no increase in poaching.

Suppressors are federally regulated under the National Firearms Act (NFA) of 1934, the same act which regulates machine guns and short barreled rifles.243 These items, which fall under the purview of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), carry severe penalties for criminal use.244 In order to purchase a suppressor an individual must find a licensed dealer, send the appropriate paperwork to the ATF along with a one-time $200 tax per suppressor, undergo an extensive FBI background check, and undergo a NICS check at the point of purchase.245 As of June, 2019, wait times for this process average 9 months or more.246

While there remains a large amount of misinformation concerning suppressors, realistically they are a useful tool with multiple positive applications. Allowing suppressors to be used for hunting has numerous benefits including hearing protection as well as reduced recoil and muzzle rise which results in increased shooter confidence. This allows for more consistent and accurate shots, improved relations for hunters and recreational shooters with the general public, and the potential recruitment and retention of new hunters and shooting sports participants due to the favorable attributes of suppressors.

Points of Interest

  • Consistent use of suppressors can help reduce noise complaints from local residents.
  • Suppressors reduce recoil and muzzle rise, allowing hunters to make quicker and more effective corrections in the field.
  • Hiram Percy Maxim invented the first suppressor in an attempt to solve the noise complaints of his neighbors. He also invented the car muffler and the two technologies work in the same way.
  • Referred to as “moderators,” suppressor use is actively encouraged in many European countries.
  • In the U.S., suppressors are considered "firearms", despite actually being a firearm accessory, and are regulated pursuant to the National Firearms Act.
  • According to a 2017 report conducted by the National Hearing Conservation Association’s Task Force on Prevention of Noise-Induced Hearing Loss from Firearm Noise, “using firearms equipped with suppressors” is one of “…several strategies [that] can be employed to reduce the risk of acquiring NIHL and associated tinnitus from firearm noise exposure.”
  • NIOSH also recommended in a similar noise study that, “if feasible and legally permissible, attach noise suppressors to firearms to reduce peak sound pressure levels.”
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found through studies that, “the only potentially effective noise control method to reduce students’ or instructors’ noise exposure from gunfire is through the use of noise suppressors that can be attached to the end of the gun barrel. However, some states do not permit civilians to use suppressors on firearms.”
  • A 2018 ATF statistical update reported that there are roughly 1.5 million registered suppressors in circulation in the U.S.

Moving Forward

There are currently 42 states that allow civilians to possess suppressors, following their legalization in Iowa in 2016.256 Also in 2016, Iowa, Michigan, and New Hampshire legalized or expanded the use of suppressors in the field. As a result, 40 states now permit their use for hunting.257 Depending on their respective state’s laws, legislators should explore and support legislative opportunities to remove restrictions on suppressors, making them more available for general use.

Contact

For more information regarding this issue, please contact Brent Miller at bmiller@congressionalsportsmen.org.

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