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Can It! June 3, 2006

Posted by federalist in Government Regulation, RKBA.
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If you invented a device that could make any firearm both safer and more accurate, you’d probably expect to win praise from both sides of the political spectrum, and make a fortune in the process. You might even expect the federal government to pass regulations requiring such a safety device for all firearms and making it difficult or illegal to operate a firearm without one. You would be wrong.

I’m talking here about suppressors, also known as “silencers” or “cans.” These are devices that sit at the end of a firearm barrel to absorb the rapidly expanding gasses that propel a bullet. The most popular design consists of enclosed baffles – basically like a car muffler, but for your gun.

Suppressors are widely manufactured for all sorts of firearms. Some are built into the gun, while many others are light alloy devices that either thread or clamp on to the end of the barrel. Top manufacturers claim that their suppressors consistently increase the muzzle velocity and accuracy of a gun. How is that possible? The devices effectively extend the barrel length, giving the propellants extra time to accelerate the bullet. And the flat end of a suppressor can increase accuracy because it is like having a perfectly crowned muzzle.

Of course, the most well known effect of suppressors is to help “silence” the explosion of burning propellant, allowing firearms to be comfortably discharged without hearing protection and in enclosed spaces. And this seems to be the sticking point.

Suppressors are regulated as heavily as grenade launchers and machine guns. Why? It can be argued that the latter have risks that far outweigh their possible benefits to private citizens. But suppressors only make guns quieter. And bulkier: A criminal who wants a quiet shot would probably opt instead to just shoot through a heavy coat to silence his gun. I suppose we could always bring a stack of pillows to the range, but what does shooting through goose down do to your target groups?

Under the National Firearms Act (NFA) suppressors are “Title II weapons.” As such, the federal government levies a $200 tax on each sale to a private citizen. This is in addition to an indefinite waiting period for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms to conduct an extended background investigation of the purchaser, for each and every purchase! Additionally, some states restrict any citizen from owning or possessing Title II devices, again failing to make any distinction between a suppressor and a machinegun.

But it’s not hard to imagine a world in which every firearm was required to be sold not only with a trigger lock, but also with a suppressor. After all, without them firearms can permanently damage the hearing of operators or bystanders. Frankly we should be alarmed that our law enforcement agencies routinely equip officers and agents with unsuppressed firearms. Are we needlessly risking collateral hearing damage just to save money?

Think of the opportunities that would open up if silencers were unrestricted. Shooting ranges that are in constant zoning battles with their neighbors could simply mark all their outdoor ranges “Suppressed shooting only.” City-dwellers would be able to practice shooting sports without having to make a daytrip to the country. Shooters in indoor ranges would be subject to much lower levels not only of noise but also of the toxic particles ejected and kicked up by the muzzle blast of an unsuppressed gun.

Are quiet guns too dangerous? Consider a close cousin of the suppressor: the engine muffler. More than 5000 pedestrians are killed each year in this country by vehicles equipped with mufflers. Surely some of these pedestrians would have been able to escape the path of the vehicle that ran them down if its engine had been louder. But the possession and use of engine mufflers on road vehicles is not regulated by any government entity. In fact, you can’t buy a car with a straight-pipe exhaust, even though it enhances performance and is arguably safer.

In contrast, adding a suppressor to a gun increases both safety and performance. Suppressor ownership and use should be encouraged, not restricted.

Comments»

1. Target Pistol: Browning Buck Mark .22 with Gemtech Outback-II Suppressor « Consumer Maven - December 17, 2006

[...] Of course, since it’s hazardous to shoot a gun without a suppressor, you will probably want to buy a pistol that can be easily adapted to use a suppressor.  I actually shopped for my suppressor first. [...]

2. federalist - January 2, 2007
3. federalist - February 20, 2007

Don’t believe engine mufflers are dangerous? WSJ highlights the hazards posed by extra-quiet electric-hybrid cars:

Michael Osborn, a blind marketing consultant from Laguna Beach, Calif., and his guide dog, Hastings, were in the middle of an intersection one morning last April when the yellow Lab stopped short. Mr. Osborn took the cue and halted — just in time to feel the breeze from a car passing right in front of them.

“Half an inch and it would have hit us … it wasn’t making any noise,” says Mr. Osborn, 50, who has been blind for 12 years. Witnesses say the car was a Toyota Prius, a hybrid vehicle.

Hybrids deliver better mileage and less pollution than traditional cars by switching between a gasoline engine and an electric motor. But when operating on the electric battery, especially when idling at a stop or running at low speeds, the engine in a hybrid is almost silent. A hybrid vehicle is generally quieter than a vacuum cleaner.

“I’m an environmentalist, and I’m all for quiet cars,” says Mr. Osborn. “But it poses a particular problem for somebody who has no vision.”

The National Federation of the Blind, an advocacy group, says all hybrid vehicles should emit a sound while turned on and is calling on the auto industry to make changes. The group says the sound should be loud enough to be heard over the din of other ambient noise.

Quiet cars pose a problem for not only those with limited vision, says the NFB’s Debbie Stein, but also for sighted pedestrians, cyclists and the elderly who rely on sound to gauge the position and speed of cars.

4. federalist - May 6, 2007

I was recently bemused to learn that U.S. law prohibits the importation of suppressors for civilian use. I.e., civilians can only buy new suppressors if they were manufactured in the United States!

I suspect this was an unintentional side effect of lumping suppressors together with machine guns in the National Firearms Act. In any case, it merits repeal. Until then, we Yanks can’t get our hands on this clever shotgun suppressor being sold over in the U.K.

FYI, applicable law as explained by the ATF:

The terms “firearm silencer” and “firearm muffler” mean any device for silencing, muffling, or diminishing the report of a portable firearm including any combination of parts, designed or redesigned, and intended for use in assembling or fabricating a firearm silencer or firearm muffler, and any part intended only for use in such assemble or fabrication.

The silencer comes within the purview of the National Firearms Act (NFA). Section 5844 of Title 26, United States Code, provides that no NFA firearm (silencer) shall be imported or brought into the United States unless the importer establishes that the firearm is:

(1) being imported or brought in for the use of the United States or
any department, independent establishment, or agency thereof or any State or possession or any political subdivision thereof; or

(2) being imported or brought in for scientific or research
purposes;

(3) or being imported or brought in solely for testing or use as a
model by a registered manufacturer or solely for use as a sample by a registered importer or registered dealer. All applications to import sales samples must be accompanied by the documentation required by 27 CFR 479.105(d).

Title 18 United States Code Section 922(o) prohibits the possession or transfer of NFA articles, except for transfer to or by, or possession by or under the authority of Federal or State departments, agencies or political subdivisions thereof.

George Oldham - March 29, 2012

It’s nice that you evidently can purchase a suppressor in the UK, but what do you put it on? All pistols and rifles have been confiscated.. You can’t even practice for the Olympic events in the UK as a foreign or native athelete!

5. Assault Rifle: AR-15 with Trijicon ACOG and Gemtech M4-02 Suppressor « Consumer Maven - June 13, 2007

[...] flash hider, but these options generally cost at least $300 more than screw-on silencers.  Since it’s more hazardous to shoot a gun without a suppressor, I can’t think of a reason I would want to quickly remove mine, so I went with a screw-on [...]

6. federalist - April 3, 2008

Revocable Living Trusts are becoming recommended estate planning tools. And in general it’s easier and more versatile to register your NFA articles to a Trust than to yourself as an individual. From here:

A good thing about corporate NFA ownership is that any authorized corporate officer can possess the NFA item. So, if a couple brothers owned the corporation they could effectively share the silencer. For an individually ownered silencer, the owner must be present when the silencer is being used.

The beauty of a Revocable Trust is that, as its name indicates, it can be altered at any time. Trustees and assets can be added, changed or removed by the grantor of the Trust. Transferring a silencer to a Trust is similar to a corporation transfer. The Form 4 must be completed using the Trust’s name as the buyer. No fingerprint cards or passport photos are needed and the CLEO signature is also not required. A notarized copy of the Declaration of Trust (or a Certification of Trust) is sent with the Form 4. The approval time for a Trust transfer is usually as quick as a corporation transfer.

7. federalist - July 23, 2008
8. EmptorMaven » Blog Archive » Assault Rifle: AR-15 with Trijicon ACOG and Gemtech M4-02 Suppressor - December 3, 2008

[...] flash hider, but these options generally cost at least $300 more than screw-on silencers.  Since it’s more hazardous to shoot a gun without a suppressor, I can’t think of a reason I would want to quickly remove mine, so I went with a screw-on [...]

9. EmptorMaven » Blog Archive » Target Pistol: Browning Buck Mark .22 with Gemtech Outback-II Suppressor - December 3, 2008

[...] course, since it’s hazardous to shoot a gun without a suppressor, you will probably want to buy a pistol that can be easily adapted to use a suppressor.  I [...]

10. Token gimp - March 16, 2009

Motorcycles with loud pipes get tickets. In South Africa and New Zealand and a few other countries you can go to any hardware store and buy a supressor. In some locations it’s illegal to not use one!
Too many movies with spies using silencers have brainwashed the stupid. Jst like they think you can pray and spray, a shotgun will knock a person 10 feet backwards or other falicies of the movie genre. They still believe “the day after is true” with global warming.
I’ve contacted the lib’s in my State to no avail.

11. federalist - June 18, 2009
12. Laurie - January 26, 2010

Interesting logic used to justify why silencers/suppressors make a gun safer. The problem is that one of the ways people can tell if a gun is being fired is by the sound. If someone were to take a silencer-equipped gun into an enclosed area, they could empty several magazines before anyone knew something was wrong.

Comparing a quiet car to a quiet gun is pretty lame. If what the gun lobby claims is true, we should all have thermonuclear weapons on ICBMs available to deter enemy attack.

I’m not against firearms, just stupid people having them.

13. federalist - January 26, 2010

Laurie: Guns with silencers aren’t actually silent. In any case, even deaf bystanders in a mass shooting can tell something’s wrong when holes and blood start appearing and people start panicking.

You might notice that mass shooters never use silencers, even though improvised silencers are cheap, simple, and effective at reducing gunshot noise. And I doubt the reason those criminals avoid using them is because they’re illegal unless registered.

If the sound of gunfire is important to safety because, as you suggest, it’s a critical indicator that an attempted gun homicide is underway, then should we ban anything that sounds like a gun that is not dangerous? Are firecrackers, backfiring automobiles, and champagne corks the equivalent of shouting “Fire” in a crowded theater?

14. SayUncle » Mufflers - May 4, 2010

[...] [...]

15. Mike G. - May 4, 2010

FYI, the firearms are “Title II,” and the dealers are Class III FFL / Special (Occupational) Taxpayers, or SOTs. I’ve got my first can processing at ATF right now.

16. Rick R. - May 4, 2010

Laurie,

Most suppressed firearms are acually about as loud as most people with no gun experience think guns are, based on what they see on TV.

It’s only in the movies that they actually go “thut, thut”. (With a FEW very specific exceptions. A deLisle Carbine is pretty bloody quiet — but it also uses a heavy, slow projectile and is a bolt action, PRECISELY to get it as quiet as it is.)

17. federalist - May 9, 2010
18. federalist - January 10, 2011

The Shooting Wire notes

And we’re also seeing a growing trend toward sound suppression that (we hope) means the industry is going to make a concerted effort to get suppression off the ATF’s class-three restrictions lists. As more and more law enforcement groups realize the dangers of unsuppressed firearms in almost any setting, we’re hoping the industry will start the education process that will -eventually- get sound suppression add-ons removed from the same restrictions as full-auto firearms or destructive devices.

Not everyone wants a machine gun, although we support anyone’s right to own one if they choose- and can afford it. Everyone, however, has hearing and most of us want to either keep our hearing intact, or preserve what we have left.

Noise suppression, not firearms regulation, is the answer. In fact, a good case could be made that public safety concerns should require suppression of law enforcement weapons.

19. asdf - August 6, 2011

Suppressors are Class III devices. No they are called NFA title II items.

20. federalist - August 6, 2011

Good call. I fixed the post to reflect this correct terminology.

DG - August 7, 2011

I just noticed it’s from 2006! Still great story. I own one, it took 10 weeks and cost me around $1,000 after the tax stamp.

21. EmptorMaven » Blog Archive » Physics of Gun Energy, Recoil, and Range - February 8, 2013

[...] Aside from its academic interest, perhaps the most practical effect of efficiency is on muzzle blast: Less efficient loads result in higher muzzle pressures. Muzzle pressure times powder mass creates both “rocket effect” recoil and potentially deafening noise. The former can be mitigated through muzzle brakes or porting. The latter can only be mitigated with suppressors. [...]


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