July 26, 2023
Some time after its invention in 1909, Hiram Percy Maxim's patented “silencer” was demonized as a stealthy tool that criminals would exploit for evil. More than 110 years later, the stigma remains embedded in American culture. Consequently, many who would benefit don't know much about them, much less considered owning one.
There's a public misconception that the federal government banned silencers. Not so! In 1934, through the National Firearms Act (NFA), a tax made it more difficult to acquire one. The NFA was passed to impose regulatory control of certain firearms and destructive devices. These included automatic rifles, sawed-off shotguns, “Tommy” guns and explosive devices, to name a few. Silencers were also on the list.
The NFA enacted an extensive registration process and $200 tax for lawful silencer ownership. When adjusted for inflation, $200 in 1934 was equivalent to about $4,225 in 2023. The tax was out of reach for many gun owners, which reinforced the taboo of ownership. Today, the tax is still $200, but the paperwork process has been known to take as much as a year, though recent adoption of electronic forms has (in some cases) reduced the timeframe.
Anyone familiar with how states pass legislation to skirt federal law shouldn't be surprised to know that eight states have made it illegal for individuals to own a silencer.
“Silencer” or “Suppressor?”
People want to sound informed, but often don't know whether to use the term “silencer” or “suppressor.” “Silencer for guns” is the term Maxim applied to his 1909 patent. It also became the term used for the NFA handbook and on its forms. Hence, “silencers” is the legal name.
The word “suppressor” is also popular lexicon because it more aptly describes the function of such a muzzle device. These devices don't silence the sound, as the name suggests, they merely suppress or muffle it. Informally, “silencer” and “suppressor” are both correct terms, and many silencer companies use them interchangeably.
How a silencer works.
Silencers are simply a “muffler.” The larger tube diameter gives the expanding gas more volume to fill and slow down. Internal chambers act as speed bumps to scrub heat and gas velocity. Hence, gas exiting the silencer from behind the bullet leaves at a lower pressure than it began, which is why the sound of a gunshot is quieter.
How much do silencers help?
To understand the degree that silencers benefit hearing, let's look at sound levels that damage human hearing. Sound is measured in decibels with “dB” representing the unit of sound as related to human hearing. For reference, a human whisper is 0 dB, normal conversation is 60 to 70 dB, a .22 LR rimfire rifle averages 140 dB and a .308 rifle can produce 170 dB of sound. Keep in mind, decibels increase exponentially, meaning every increase of 10 dB is a 10-fold increase in sound. If a sound is 20 dB, that's 100 times louder than a whisper. Sounds measuring 140 dB or less are considered “hearing safe,” but sustained exposure to sounds of 85 dB or more can result in hearing loss.
Quality silencers often muffle a gunshot down to between 110 dB and 140 dB, depending on the cartridge and barrel length, which explains why the use of them saves hearing. However, this doesn't mean you can leave your hearing protection behind when using a silencer. If you are shooting a few shots while hunting or zeroing a firearm, hearing protection may not be necessary. If you are shooting repeatedly, say, in a training course where everyone else also has a silencer, wearing hearing protection is a must. Sustained gunfire above 85 dB can permanently damage hearing.
Attending a SilencerCo media event at Gunsite Academy is where I realized the depth of a suppressor's benefits beyond making a gunshot hearing safe. I live in California where silencers are banned, so my experience using them has been limited to out-of-state hunting and precision shooting courses, mostly with bolt-action rifles.
The first two days were an abbreviated carbine course given by Instructors Chris Currie, Verlin Rector and Jerry McCown. I ran a SilencerCo Omega 36M on an ArmaLite AR-15, complete with Timney Triggers' AR Calvin Elite trigger and an EOTech holographic sight. The third day was spent shooting a potpourri of rifles and handguns from bolt actions to full autos with an array of silencers.
Shooting an AR-15 suppressed reduces perceived recoil considerably, which allowed me to stay on target and acquire a subsequent sight picture quickly. I was surprised how fast and accurate I shot controlled pairs, hammer pairs and failure drills. This benefit carried across every firearm, from .22 LR pistols to bolt-
action rifles and a select-fire HK MP5. Being accurate with each shot is what we should all strive for.
Part of the course involved clearing a shoothouse using a silencer-equipped AR-15. The silencer greatly softened the harsh pressure waves that occur in enclosed quarters. The reduced muzzle flash was a big welcome, too.
There are a few downsides to using a silencer. It does add weight and length to the end of a firearm. Although I found it easy to compensate for the front-heaviness of a silencer on a pistol or rifle, the weight is noticeable when holding the firearm for a length time. The extra length also makes maneuvering in tight spaces with a rifle or shotgun cumbersome and concealed carry with a pistol unlikely.
Silencers produce back pressure that causes a portion of the gas to flow rearward. When shooting an AR-15, the gas sneaks through the charging handle and can blast onto the shooter's face. The gas velocity isn't enough to prevent you from shooting, but it is annoying (and sometimes eye watering) to get a puff of gas in your eyes, nose or mouth. SilencerCo makes a Gas Defeating Charging Handle that features a seal to minimize the gas, but I had mixed results using one.
Choosing a Silencer
There is a dizzying amount of choices. The type of shooting and the firearm it will attach to will dictate the type of silencer and the materials it's made from. There are pistol- and rifle-specific silencers, but a few can be used for both with the proper mounting adapters.
For hardcore users of semiauto or full-auto firearms, look at silencers designed for heavy use. These are often constructed of metals such as Cobalt 6, Inconel and stainless steel that can withstand the high temperatures that repeated semiauto or full auto fire produce. If you're not burning up a barrel with each session, aluminum, titanium and stainless steel perform well, alternatively.
Silencers are either serviceable or sealed. Serviceable silencers are designed to be disassembled by the user for cleaning. This is handy feature when shooting dirty cartridges. Sealed silencers are welded and not user serviceable. The advantage to using a sealed silencer is that they are more durable, often lighter and may offer more internal volume for the gasses to expand. The disadvantage is that you have to send it to the manufacture for cleaning, repair or replacement. Some silencers are self-cleaning due to the cartridge its shooting, so it not being serviceable may not be a deal breaker here.
As if those features were not enough to consider, there are two types of internal construction: Baffle and monocore. A baffle is cup-shaped piece of metal with a hole in the center that may be ported or not. They are always stacked in multiples, and the quantity and design vary with each silencer. A monocore silencer has chambers, too, but the innards are made of a single piece of metal. Both are designed to reduce gas pressure and available as serviceable and sealed.
A common misconception you'll run into with any muzzle device is that the bore must match the specific caliber of the firearm you are shooting. While it's true that you'll get the best sound suppression with a silencer that matches your firearm's caliber, there's only a slight decibel hit using one with a larger bore. The benefit to choosing a larger bore is that you gain the ability to use one silencer on multiple firearms of different calibers. There are exceptions to this due to barrel length and the ammunition, so consult the silencer manufacturer first. Of course, never shoot ammo that is a larger caliber than the silencer bore; you'll risk injury and destroy the silencer.
Mounting a silencer to a firearm requires a threaded barrel or a muzzle device with a quick-detach system such as SilenceCo's ASR Mounting System or 3-lug mount. A direct-thread silencer is the least expensive to get up and running since there is no additional cost for a mount. The advantage of a quick-detach mount is that it makes silencer swaps toolless. The ASR quick-detach mount is available with a built-in muzzle brake or flash hider. A 3-lug mount can't handle the high pressures of rifle rounds that's why you'll find them on pistol caliber firearms.
Pistols whose barrels are not fixed have different requirements and must use a piston mount such as SilencerCo's Charlie Piston Mount.
Now that we have a general overview of silencers, let's get into specifics with some of the SilencerCo silencers I had the opportunity to shoot. Starting with the popular .22 LR cartridge, all of the rimfire silencers are serviceable and can be mounted to a pistol or rifle. The Warlock 22 is a base model with aluminum internals designed for .22 LR only. The Sparrow 22 has stainless steel innards and can handle rimfire cartridges including the .17 Hornet, .17 WSM, .22 WMR and 5.7x28mm. You can run full auto through the Sparrow 22 with .22 LR only. The Switchback 22 is made of titanium and stainless, and can be used up to full auto with rimfire cartridges.
There are many excellent rifle silencers. The Saker models are dedicated to the .223/5.56mm caliber and, along with the larger bore Chimera 300, are designed for heavy duty work where the silencer will heat up quickly such as on a short barreled or full-auto firearm. The Omega 300 is exclusively for rifle calibers ranging from .223 to .300, and it includes an integral muzzlebrake for added recoil control. Are you a hunter? Look at the Harvester EVO. It is designed to be lightweight and nimble while handling .223 to .300 Win.
Here are three dedicated pistol-caliber models: Octane, Omega K and Osprey 2.0. The Octane and Omega are available in two models, “9” and “45,” and rated for full auto. The 9 series is designed for 9mm and .300 BLK subsonic, while the 45 series is compatible with 9mm, .45 ACP, 10mm and subsonic .300 BLK. The Omega series is sealed and not user serviceable. Since the silencers will cover standard-height sights, you'll need to incorporate suppressor-height sights.
The Osprey 2.0 is the latest iteration of the popular multi-caliber, polygonal pistol silencer. Like the Octane, it's available in 9 and 45 versions, and each model is compatible with the same respective ammo. What makes the Osprey 2.0 unique is that the top of the silencer sits below the shooter's line of sight, allowing unimpeded view of the target with standard height pistol sights. It includes a new indexing collar and button, which makes alignment easier than the previous cam lever lock.
My first silencer choice would be one that is rated for both rifle and pistol use, for the widest range of compatibility. The Omega 36M, Hybrid 46 and Hybrid 46M models all cover this ground. The Omega 36M and Hybrid 36M are versatile of because they can be configured as a short or tall silencer, being able to easily adapt to a rifle or pistol. The Omega 36M is compatible with .22 Hornet up to .338 LM and 9mm. The Hybrid 46 and 46M have a larger bore size that handles 9mm and .45 ACP and can be used with 5.56 NATO up to .45-70 and .338. To use either silencer on a pistol, you'll want to use suppressor-height sights.
High-decibel sounds can cause irreversible hearing loss. We should do everything we can to protect our hearing. A silencer is a great tool that greatly assists in this, not to include other benefits. Now it's time to select the silencer you want first.
Enjoy articles like this?
Subscribe to the magazine.
Get access to everything Guns & Ammo has to offer.
Subscribe to the Magazine