What is a suppressor? What’s the point of using one? How are they usually portrayed? We’re going to tackle some common suppressor myths and questions in this week’s article! I can simplify the subject of the suppressor fairly easily by just saying there’s a lot of bad information and many misconceptions about the suppressor. Contrary to popular belief, the suppressor is not a tool used only by criminals and assassins. There are a number of positive benefits to shooting with a suppressor. Many people have a much more positive experience with firearms if a suppressor is used, whether it’s the shooter, the bystander, or the neighbors that live near a shooting range! There are few downsides and many positive benefits of using a suppressor, so let’s get started!
What is a Suppressor?
A suppressor is a device which is attached to a firearm that has an extended barrel with threads on it. The suppressor screws onto those threads and has the appearance of a long cylinder hanging on the end of the barrel. This is where the nickname “can” comes into play. There are also references to creating an improvised suppressor using pop cans, bottles, and things of that nature. A suppressor is frequently referred to as a Can, that’s the part to remember. They function by trapping and dispersing the hot gases that leave the barrel both ahead of, and behind, the bullet as the firearm is discharged.
You see, most of the noise and muzzle blast produced by a firearm comes from the same expanding gases that are propelling the bullet out of the case and down the barrel. Logically, as the bullet leaves the barrel, those gases follow the bullet out and continue to expand. This is where you see dirt and grass being blown away from the muzzle of rifles being fired from the prone position. That’s generally what’s affectionately referred to as “muzzle blast!” The noise and muzzle blast are what tend to be most bothersome to new shooters firing a pistol or rifle without a suppressor!
How does a Suppressor work?
Inside the “Can” or suppressor you have a hollow tube and baffles. Baffles are shaped differently depending on the manufacturer but think of them as tiny funnels inside the suppressor. They are stacked upon each other and the funnels are upside down within the suppressor. The bullet flies through a hole in the center of the funnel and all the gas is spread out, slowed down, and held up as it flows over the spout of the funnel and up the outside towards the larger diameter top. This is the essence of how a suppressor works, by funneling and controlling the gas emissions from the fired cartridge.
By slowing the gases down, expanding them, and controlling their release from the muzzle you contain and “suppress” the noise and muzzle blast of a firearm. I’ll tell you right now, it’s still nowhere near as quiet as in the movies! In fact, it’s still loud enough to damage your hearing, especially when firing ammunition that achieves supersonic velocity. You can further reduce the noise by using ammunition designed not to push the bullet to supersonic velocities, but that’s not the greatest idea for long range shooting. However, there are still advantages and benefits to using a suppressor even with supersonic ammunition, rifles, and high velocity cartridges!
Benefits of a Suppressor
The primary benefits of a suppressor are drastic reductions in sound and muzzle blast. It’s really that simple. A rifle that fires a high velocity cartridge tends to be LOUD if you are nearby. The noise level can be further amplified and more disruptive if the rifle is equipped with a muzzle brake and you happen to be standing off to the side where the brake funnels the gas and noise. The suppressor slows and controls the gas expansion and dramatically reduces the sound output. The degree to which that benefits the shooter is understated, believe me. One of the primary reasons people develop a flinch, as they try to anticipate the firearm discharging, is due to noise sensitivity. By reducing the noise signature of the pistol, rifle, whatever…you increase the odds of promoting good marksmanship.
Suppressors are very popular overseas. In addition to not startling the shooter, there are community benefits. It’s quieter for anyone that lives near a shooting range or whose house happens to be in the neighborhood of a popular hunting area. By reducing some of the noise that so many people find obnoxious, scary, annoying, etc. you foster better relationships with people outside the shooting community. Reducing the blast signature really only benefits the shooter and people shooting on a line or lane next to the shooter, but it’s still a benefit for sure!
Suppressor Legalities & Downsides
Technically, a suppressor is a Class III device. Meaning it’s illegal to possess without the proper paperwork. The good news is, aside from the wait, you can get your hands on one fairly easily. You have to file an application through a Class III firearms dealer. You also have to pay a fee to the BATFE (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives) and wait while a review of the application is completed. Assuming you don’t have any disqualifying behavior in your history the paperwork, referred to as a “Stamp”, is approved and returned to the Class III dealer you filed the application through. You are then free to take the suppressor home with you, authorized to do so by the paperwork you’ve now received.
The downsides, unfortunately, to owning a suppressor can be a real pain in the ass if you aren’t careful. For starters, the manner in which you apply for permission to possess the suppressor matters. You can file as an individual, for example, and be granted permission to possess and use the suppressor. The problem is, you’re the only person that stamp authorizes to use the suppressor. If you should pass away whether from old age or a car accident, none of your family can legally possess the suppressor. There are some ways to minimize that hassle, like filing the paperwork (Form 4) through a Non Revocable Trust. That gives you some freedom and options for transfer and use of the suppressor. We’ll cover that in another article!
To summarize, a suppressor is a great tool for shooting. It can help you avert a flinch from noise. It reduces the blast signature and dust kicked up when you fire a rifle from the prone position. It generally makes firearms more pleasant to shoot! There are more legal hurdles to acquiring one but with some patience and determination it’s a fairly easy goal to attain. We have plans for a few articles on the suppressor topic. We’re going to tackle the process of filing for a Form 4 in order to take possession of one, cleaning and maintenance, and even an article with some tips and tricks to get the most out of your suppressor experience! As always if you have questions, or tips for other readers, drop them in the comments below!