If you’ve ever lost the muffler on your car, you know how noisy and annoying an engine can be without this simple technology. Imagine how loud our highways would be if no one had mufflers on their cars.
Now flip the coin and imagine how quiet your local shooting range could be if the same technology that quiets our engines was equally applied to quiet our firearms.
Both technologies were developed by Hiram Maxim—son of the inventor of the Maxim machine gun—who patented his “Maxim Silencer” in 1908.
But ironically, where Maxim’s muffler was universally adopted and mandated by law in most jurisdictions as a sensible prescription for peace and quiet, the Maxim Silencer—or suppressor, as it’s more accurately known, since it doesn’t make firearms “silent”—was branded as the tool of criminal killers, regulated by federal law in the same way as machine guns, and flat-out banned by many states.
Today that’s changing, as Maxim’s suppressor revolutionizes the world of firearms the same way his muffler revolutionized the world of motor vehicles. Last year alone, Americans purchased between 100,000 and 200,000 suppressors according to Forbes magazine, and the number of suppressors registered by civilians with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) has doubled since 2011 to more than 571,000.Maxim’s suppressor revolutionizes the world of firearms the same way his muffler revolutionized the world of motor vehicles.
Meanwhile, several states have repealed bans on suppressors in recent years.
Since 2011, at least six states have passed so-called “shall-sign” or “shall-certify” laws, which, like “shall-issue” laws governing the right to carry, require law enforcement authorities to approve suppressor applications in a timely fashion unless they can show why an applicant should not be approved. Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky and Utah passed such laws last year.
In addition, over the past six years, 11 states have revised their hunting regulations to allow the use of suppressors while hunting. And similar bills, either lifting bans on suppressors or allowing their use for hunting, are being debated in Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota and New Hampshire this year.
Today, 39 states allow the possession of suppressors, and 35 of those states allow their use for hunting.
It’s easy to understand why: Suppressors have many benefits, not just for hunters and shooters, but for others in the area. Stifling noise pollution is really a no-brainer. Why would anyone oppose putting mufflers on cars?
Unfortunately, the anti-gun lobby and its media mouthpieces are trying to demonize the devices and frighten the public with misinformation about suppressors. It’s the same tactic they used with semi-automatic firearms—and just as false now as it was back then.
So let’s cut through the noise to get to the truth about firearm suppressors.
Media and Movies Manipulate the Facts
From James Bond flicks to the latest Hollywood thriller, we’ve all seen countless movie scenes where the villain uses a pistol fitted with a so-called “silencer” to dispatch his victim while potential witnesses sleep, unaware, just a bedroom away.
In video games from “Splinter Cell” to “Hitman,” we’ve seen how supposed “silencers” allow players to pick off digital bad guys one by one without alerting their compadres who stand guard just around the corner.
And in the states where suppressor legislation is being debated, we’ve heard the same scary media reports of how legalizing so-called “silencers” will allow criminals to commit crimes undetected … or poach wildlife without fear of game wardens … or do other things that are as fantastic and far-fetched as those depicted in movies and video games.
But the horror stories are fictional and false.
First of all, the term “silencer” is a misnomer. Regardless of what you call them—“suppressors,” “silencers” or “cans”—they don’t make firearms silent.Regardless of what you call them—“suppressors,” “silencers” or “cans”—they don’t make firearms silent.
The sounds you hear when you fire a gun come from three distinct sources: the blast of hot, high-velocity gas from the powder charge; the mechanical sound of the firearm’s action cycling; and the characteristic “crack” of the bullet breaking the sound barrier.
Two of those sources of sound—the supersonic “crack” and the mechanical clattering of steel on steel—are not reduced or changed in any way by a suppressor. The third source of noise—the blast of high-pressure gas that drives the projectile—is only reduced to a dull roar.
What that means in practical terms is that the noise of a firearm is cut by something less than half. So instead of sounding like a jet engine’s 155 decibels, a pistol might be “silenced” to the 132-decibel level of a jackhammer or wide-open chainsaw.
So despite the movies we’ve all seen where “silencers” sound like some kind of electronic ray-gun, suppressors don’t allow criminals to shoot a man without waking his wife; they don’t allow poachers to kill deer without alerting the neighbors; and, for those reasons and others, they aren’t often used by lawbreakers to commit crimes.
Yet still we get the endless horror stories from those who don’t know what they’re talking about.
In 2004, a California court—where we all know the world’s most renowned firearm experts reside—flatly declared, “A silencer is used only for killing other human beings.”
In Minnesota, where suppressor legislation has been debated this year, Gov. Mark Dayton has vowed, “I will veto any bill that has the so-called silencers, they call them suppressors. Suppression of gun noise heightens the risk to law enforcement officers and also the innocent bystander on the scene or in the neighborhood.”
In Florida, three residents filed suit to reimpose the state’s ban on using suppressors for hunting. They claimed that allowing hunters to use suppressors would increase accidental shootings “as the once-thundering crack of a firearm, sending warning to hikers, nature lovers and wildlife that hunters are nearby, will be reduced, muffled or altogether silenced.” One of those plaintiffs, demonstrating his ignorance on the issue, said, “If a bullet travels farther than the sound of the shot, it creates a zone of significant danger.”
But as history and experience have demonstrated, all these charges and complaints are wrong.
Despite what we’ve all seen in movies and video games, suppressors are not widely used by criminals.
Suppressors, like machine guns and sawed-off shotguns, were effectively banned under federal law in the days of Al Capone by the National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA).
Today, possession of a suppressor without the required federal permit is a federal felony. Moreover, the penalty for using a suppressor in a crime of violence or drug trafficking is a mandatory 30-year prison sentence.
That’s more time behind bars than most convicted murderers serve.
For those who wish to obtain a suppressor, the federal requirements alone are daunting. To legally purchase a suppressor from a dealer, you must:
- Be at least 21 years of age, a resident of the United States and legally eligible to purchase a firearm;
- Reside in one of the 39 states where civilian ownership of suppressors is allowed;
- Find a dealer licensed to transfer suppressors;
- Pass an extensive background check by the BATFE;
- Submit your fingerprints, your photograph and pay a $200 transfer tax for each suppressor;
- Obtain approval from the chief law enforcement officer of the jurisdiction in which you live;
- And wait for the processing of your paperwork to clear, which can take as long as nine to 10 months.
Now ask yourself: Is a criminal going to jump through all those hoops, pay anywhere from $700 to $2,000 for his suppressor, wait nearly a year to take delivery of it and then risk a 30-year mandatory prison sentence to use it in crime? Or will he simply place a pillow over the head of his sleeping victim before pulling the trigger—which carries no additional penalty?
Not surprisingly, the criminal use of suppressors is, statistically speaking, almost nonexistent. Nor are they commonly used to poach wild game. If they were a poacher’s tool, we might expect to hear caution expressed by state conservation authorities. Instead, fish and game commissions are often unanimous in their support of lifting bans on the use of suppressors for hunting, as they recently were in Alabama and Florida.
The fact is, suppressors have been used for many years for perfectly lawful purposes already. State and federal officials have used them to cull overpopulated deer from populated areas, such as Long Island, N.Y., and Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C.
There’s simply no legitimate reason that honest, lawful, peaceable people should continue to be denied the many benefits of this 100-year-old technology.
Don't Let Freedom Be Suppressed
Even if you don’t care about owning a suppressor for yourself, if you care about owning a gun and having a place to shoot it or hunt with it—not to mention protecting your hearing—you should support the right of others to own the devices.
Because the fact is, suppressors make gun owners better neighbors.
With more and more shooting ranges facing increasing restrictions or even closure due to noise complaints, suppressors represent a valuable form of noise pollution abatement—just like mufflers.
Many hunters don’t use hearing protection, since they want to hear the game they’re hunting. For them, suppressors provide hearing protection that can be as effective as earplugs.
Indeed, in much of the world—even countries with heavy restrictions on firearm ownership, such as Canada or Sweden—the ownership of “moderators,” as Europeans call the devices, is unregulated. Their use in hunting and shooting is considered a common courtesy, and you can buy them in a hardware store.
In almost every other part of American life, we make efforts to shield the public from excessive noise. From exhaust mufflers on our motor vehicles, to noise barriers on our highways, to larger, geared compressors on our airliners’ turbofans, technologies to protect the public’s hearing are encouraged, if not required.
We’ve had the technology to do the same for gun owners for more than a century. It’s time to cut through the noise and use it.