THE BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO SILENCERS AND SUPPRESSORS
We Stand Beside those who Protect our Community
There is no doubt that we live in the golden age of silencers. Finding the perfect silencer for you is easier than ever with many manufacturers and distributors. But, for those new to the scene, it can be a bit confusing and cumbersome to get started in deciding on and purchasing the right one for you. Should you buy a direct thread or quick disconnect (QD) silencer? Dedicated or multi-caliber? Aluminum or titanium? These are just some of the questions you may need to ask yourself, and the list of questions could go on. This article hopes to outline the advantages and disadvantages of different types of silencers, answer questions about how to purchase, why you might want to buy versus build one, and a few other topics to help newbies steer the convoluted path of owning a silencer. COMMON MYTHS ABOUT SILENCERS AND SUPPRESSORS This article will discuss silencers; however, we also need to briefly dispel what they are not. According to a 2019 article from Reason.com, there are over 1.5 million silencers in the United States. Of those legally owned, only .003% are used in crimes annually. To put that into perspective, assuming that the .0003% stat is accurate, approximately 45 silencers are used in crimes every year of the 1,500,000 owned. Lawmakers bent on gun control will characterize silencers as devices only criminals use to prevent them from being heard while committing crimes. Hollywood has also added to the stereotype that only assassins or gangsters would need such a device. The movie industry has distorted how quiet silencers actually are. An AR-15 with a 16” barrel using M193 ammunition will report approximately 167 decibels (dB). Sound reduction of the same rifle and ammunition while using a silencer would only bring the sound down to 136 dB. While this may seem like a dramatic reduction of sound, it is still well over a rock concert at 120 dB. Between Hollywood making silencers seem like there is no noise and the rhetoric of anti-gun lawmakers, it is no wonder why silencers get a bad wrap. SILENCER VS. SUPPRESSOR Much like the 1911 vs. Glock debate, there is an argument about whether the term ‘silencer’ or ‘suppressor’ is most accurate. On March 30th, 1909, Hiram Percy Maxim was awarded a patent for the first sound reducing device for a firearm. The device’s name was known as the Maxim Silencer, and the patent stated that it was for a silencing device that attaches to a firearm. Hiram also invented the muffler for internal combustion vehicles, simultaneously using the same concepts as the Maxim Silencer. The question is, did the Maxim Silencer completely silence the firearm? The answer is no. Some will point to this and state that the more accurate term is ‘suppressor’ since the device cannot completely silence the gun. Yet, purists will counter that argument that since the first patent labeled it as a silencer, it should be so. In addition, some manufacturers have silencers in their name, adding to more confusion and/or division. Ultimately, the terms silencer and suppressor could be, and often is, used interchangeably. Some have become so tired of the battle that they completely sidestep the argument by using the slang term ‘can’ to describe the device. This article will use all the terms, silencer/suppressor/can, interchangeably throughout the article to not be so repetitive. WHY OWN A SILENCER? The simple answer is, they’re cool! I mean, really cool! Do you need any other reason? But, in all seriousness, suppressors have more applications than LARPing with your crew at the range. The first and probably most important reason is hearing conservation. Extended periods of range time or training can damage your hearing even with hearing protection. Dampening the report from a pistol or rifle will extend your hearing for those people that go to the range very often. The Hearing Conservation Act, which was proposed to Congress in October of 2017, sought to use this as its main argument to allow individuals to purchase silencers without the convoluted and time-consuming process of getting a tax stamp. Unbeknownst to many, most European countries require hunters to use silencers on their pistols or rifles to be courteous to those living around designated hunting areas. In the United States, there are many public hunting areas near residential areas, and using a suppressor only makes sense. It would allow a hunter to not disturb people on an early Saturday morning hunting trip. Strategically, silencers also offer hunters an advantage on certain types of invasive game like coyotes or prairie dogs. Muffling the sound will help not alert other animals that a hunter is after them and will maximize an outing and a hunter’s bag limit. Finally, suppressors have a perceived difference in felt recoil, making the firearm seemingly shoot softer. This unintended advantage, coupled with the sound reduction, can help new or inexperienced shooters enjoy shooting more! Anything that can be done to entice young or new shooters to come to the range and be a part of the Second Amendment community is always a win. WHAT IS A TAX STAMP? Since silencers are regulated, a $200 tax is imposed by the federal government to possess items outlined in the National Firearms Act (NFA). Once you have purchased your tax stamp, it will be attached to your Form 1 or Form 4 document to show that you physically paid the NFA tax. The tax stamp also represents a guarantee that what you purchased is legit. You will want to ensure you make copies of your tax stamp and ATF forms and keep those copies with your NFA items as you travel to and from the range. WHAT TO LOOK FOR WHEN BUYING A SUPPRESSOR There are several items to be mindful of when choosing a can. Here are some of the questions you may want to ask yourself: What type of firearm will I use this for (rifle or pistol)? What caliber will you want the silencer chambered in? What will the silencer be used for (hunting, precision shooting, training, etc.)? What material do you want it made from? How much do you want it to weigh? What is my budget? Once you have answered these questions, you can start researching suppressors from manufacturers and distributors or maybe begin exploring how to build one. For the most part, you should find a can that best suits your needs or desires based on the answers to the above questions. There are a few exceptions. Typically, the same silencer cannot be used for rifles and pistols. You will need to decide which is most essential to suppress and determine which silencer will best suit your needs. Materials like steel, aluminum, and titanium are used in making silencers, and each has its pros and cons. Steel is the most robust and will typically be rated for full-auto use. But steel will be heavier and will add a lot of weight to the end of your firearm. This added weight could wear you out by the end of a range session or hunting trip. Aluminum is significantly lighter than steel and will be more pleasant to have on your preferred gun as you shoot. Yet, they are typically not rated for full-auto use and will heat up faster than steel. Titanium is the best of both worlds since it is usually tough enough for full-auto rifles/pistols and light like aluminum. Unfortunately, titanium suppressors can be more expensive, and the price could be a dissuading factor in whether someone buys a can or not. Finally, and most importantly, once you have decided on the silencer you want, you will need to add $200 for the federal tax stamp. This may dramatically change which kind of silencer someone could afford. MULTI-CALIBER VS. DEDICATED SILENCERS Once you have determined the firearm you want a silencer on and the material you are interested in it being made from, you will need to determine what caliber, or calibers, it is rated for. Like choosing the material, dedicated and multi-caliber cans have many pros and cons. A dedicated suppressor will be specifically designed for the caliber you purchase it for. The best example is for cans built around the 5.56mm NATO round. This is a complicated caliber to suppress since its velocities are so high. Regardless of what type of silencer you use, the round will still travel at super-sonic speeds with few techniques to slow it down. While the decibels of a suppressed 5.56mm rifle will be at the extreme edge of needing hearing protection, many have found short trips to the range comfortable enough to shoot without ears. This is due to the technological advancements of silencers designed to suppress that particular round. Allowing manufacturers to solely focus on a specific caliber will maximize the can’s ability to reduce the decibel ratings for any round. A multi-caliber can allow someone to have one silencer for multiple different types of rounds. The same multi-cal suppressor could be used for a hunting trip with a .300 WIN MAG bolt-action rifle one day and a training session with a 5.56mm AR-15 the next. This flexibility may give you more bang for your buck by not purchasing multiple silencers for specific weapons and, more importantly, will save you money by not having to buy several tax stamps. However, while the multi-cal can is versatile, it will not suppress the sound like a dedicated silencer will since it has so many calibers to deal with. It will do great at dampening the report but usually lag behind a silencer explicitly made for a particular cartridge. HOW DO YOU ATTACH A SUPPRESSOR? There are two significant methods to attach a suppressor. The first way, arguably the most traditional, is by directly threading the silencer onto a rifle or pistol. Naturally, this method will require the barrel to be threaded to accept your suppressor. It is also believed to be a more stable way to attach a silencer to a firearm since the can is directly in contact with the threads of the muzzle. Because of that, it is less likely that the silencer will pitch or cant while shooting providing the barrel is concentric. Yet, threading the suppressor onto the firearm is cumbersome and could easily be cross-threaded if not correctly installed or if the barrel is extremely hot. Conversely, QD styles of suppressors will generally attach to a compensator, flash hider, or tri-lug adaptor to allow for easy installation and removal instead of directly threading to a barrel. This method will be the quickest way to add or remove a can; however, it could also be the most inconsistent if the QD device and silencer are not 100% compatible or have been used too much. Worn attachment components could cause baffle strikes that will damage your silencer. There is no definitive data that shows one method will make your firearm more or less accurate. However, some will suggest that direct thread silencers are inherently more accurate since they are directly tied together to create a more stable platform between the barrel and silencer. But, deciding on direct thread or QD will be based on the application and your needs. If you are interested in long-range/precision shooting, then a direct thread may be the correct answer for you. A QD option might be more compatible if you are more concerned with using a multi-cal can for home defense and training. HOW DO I PURCHASE A SILENCER? Buying a silencer can be one of the most frustrating purchases you will ever face. The current wait times are between 10-14 months due to the Form 4/tax stamp process. In addition, understanding what and when things need to be done could be confusing too. Here are the basic steps to purchasing a suppressor. Please note laws in your jurisdiction may vary. Buy the silencer you want. This can be done directly from the manufacturer, a distributor such as Silencer Shop and Silencer Co., or a Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL). Purchase a Tax Stamp. You will need to purchase a federal tax stamp to own the silencer, adding an additional $200 to your purchase. Purchasing the tax stamp is usually done as a separate transaction to distinguish between buying a can and the stamp itself. In addition, most distributors will integrate purchasing the stamp in the checkout process even though the billing will be separate. Choose Your Filing Method. This is one of the trickier parts of the purchasing process. You have the option to purchase the item as an individual or create a trust or corporation (this will be discussed in more detail below). It would be best to discuss this with your distributor or FFL to best determine which is a better option for your needs. Get Fingerprinted and take passport photos. Your fingerprints and a passport-type photograph will need to accompany your documents to establish your identity.Fill out your Form 4. You will need to complete and send in an ATF Form 4 to compile your demographic information, make and model the silencer you are purchasing, and accompany your fingerprints and photos. Forget you did steps 1-5. After completing steps 1-5, you will want to forget you even did all that work since you will have a 10 to 14-month wait to receive your tax stamp. This is one of the most infuriating parts of purchasing a suppressor. This is especially annoying for individuals that have already completed these steps for a previous silencer purchase since your information is already on file. This task seems daunting; however, it is easier than you might expect. Once you are focused and determined to purchase a silencer, all the above steps will go by quickly, especially with certain distributors having kiosks throughout the U.S. that allow you to complete nearly all steps in one spot. *The recently introduced electronic E-Forms have greatly increased the speed at which forms are being approved and returned back to the consumer. Check with your local dealer for more info. CAN I BUILD A SILENCER? The short answer is yes. However, there are a few additional steps that you will need to complete to ensure the process is done accurately. Form 1 is the form you will use to complete everything to build your suppressor. It is similar to Form 4 but will be submitted slightly differently. Building your own silencer has several advantages to buying one: It is usually slightly cheaper to build a suppressor than to outright buy one from a manufacturer. In building the can, you will better understand how it works. You will also control all aspects of the building process allowing you to keep the QA/QC to your standards. And probably most important, wait times on Form 1 are a matter of weeks instead of months. Most Form 1 tax stamps are approved within 14 to 30 days. Like Form 4, here are the basic steps to building a silencer. Determine the “kit” you’d like to purchase. Several companies have “kits” for you to buy that will give you everything you need to build a suppressor. These kits will not be drilled or ready to use. Jigs may be required to fully complete the silencer. DO NOT BEGIN BUILDING YOUR SUPPRESSOR UNTIL YOU HAVE AN APPROVED FORM 1/TAX STAMP. Most people will only purchase the silencer housing (without the baffles) to get serial numbers etched while waiting for approval. Collect all your documents. Get a set of passport photos and save them on your computer. Determine whether you’re going to file as a trust or an individual. If you are using a trust, ensure your trust paperwork is completed, notarized, and scanned to your computer. If you’re filing as an individual, you’ll need your Chief Law Enforcement Officer (CLEO) information. That information is easily found by looking up the law enforcement department for whatever jurisdiction you fall under (Police/Sheriff). Finally, you will need a current fingerprint card. Most Police/Sheriff’s departments will do them for a small fee. Purchase a Tax Stamp. Just like buying a silencer, you will need to purchase a federal tax stamp to own the silencer which will add an additional $200 to your build. Begin filling out Form 1. Go to the ATF’s website and create a profile or log in. As you begin filling in Form 1, you will be asked if you are filing as an individual or creating a trust/corporation. The majority of people will fall under the trust or individual category. Ensure you take your time and read through everything carefully as you input your information to be as accurate as possible. Once you have selected ‘silencer’ as the device, you are registering with the ATF, fill out the caliber, length, and serial number you want (ex BOB001). Make sure you put an actual caliber on the form and not “multi”. The general rule of thumb is .30 cal will cover a vast majority of rifles, .45 cal will cover most handguns, and rimfire will need to be specific. There will be several screens that you will work through to list trust or individual information. Check your mail. When you submitted form 1, check your email regularly for an email from the ATF about submitting your fingerprints. Once your fingerprints are sent and received the clock starts to approve your Form 1! This is usually completed within 14-30 days. Receive your Form 1 and begin building your silencer. *Laws in your jurisdiction may vary. WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FILING AS AN INDIVIDUAL AND A TRUST? Filing as an individual means that you are the sole owner of the silencer. Your tax stamp and the device cannot be transferred to anyone else, ever, unless the proper transfer process for Form 1 or 4 items is followed. Transferring a device without following the appropriate steps would be a violation of the National Firearms Act and could result in punitive damages. In addition, you must be physically present any time your device is used with a copy of your Form 1/4 and tax stamp. Filing as an individual has an advantage in not relying on getting detailed information of other people who may not want to be involved. A trust is a document that lists everyone legally able to possess the silencer. Those individuals may use the can anytime without you being present. While filling out Form 1, you will need to provide precise personal information about the individuals included in the trust. The significant advantage to using a trust is anyone listed on the trust could inherit the suppressor with no additional paperwork should you pass away. CONCLUSION Silencers have received a bad rap from politicians and Hollywood to dissuade people from purchasing them. However, they should always be viewed as safety devices to preserve hearing for shooting enthusiasts. Surprisingly, suppressor types are nearly as plentiful as the firearms they attach to. It is best to do plenty of research before buying or building your desired can. Buying a silencer will increase shooting enjoyment and could help entice new or inexperienced shooters to be more involved at the local range. Making your own can allows you to better understand how your device will work, reduce the overall cost, and shorten the wait time in receiving your approvals/tax stamp back from the ATF. If you have ever wanted to own a silencer, there is no better time to get into one than now. While the process may seem long and intimidating, it will be the single most enjoyable purchase you will have in your firearms collection.
Copyright 2019 by Metal Caliber