Editors Note: This is the second of a two-part article on silencers by John Hertig. Part 1 was posted yesterday and provides valuable information that you should know before making any decisions. And don’t forget to vote in our current Prepper Journal Writing Contest!
So Should You Get a Suppressor?
The primary advantage to a suppressor is that it reduces the sound level of each shot so as to cause less hearing damage and annoyance to others. Using a suppressor in conjunction with hearing protection can make long, indoor shooting sessions more hearing safe and pleasant. And reduces the hearing damage from a few indoor shots without hearing protection. Perhaps the greatest benefit would be in hunting, where you would not need to wear hearing protection, and would have less noise to annoy the game or other people. But there are other benefits as well. Suppressors tend to reduce recoil, which makes the weapon easier and more pleasant to shoot, and significantly reduce muzzle blast, which can negatively affect both the shooter and those close by. If you are shooting from the prone position, reduced muzzle blast means reduced dust problems.
And suppressors also reduce muzzle flash, which helps preserve your vision when shooting in low light. Finally, some suppressors can change the sound of the shot so that in addition to being less loud, it is less “sharp” as well. In Europe, suppressors are not overly regulated, and at some shooting ranges, are required equipment.
But there are negative factors, as you might expect because relatively few shooters (in the USA) have suppressors.
A major downside is that commercially made suppressors are expensive. Because of the bureaucratic nonsense involved in getting one, the market is limited, and with the extra taxes and fees which manufacturers need to pay, they have to charge a high price to cover costs and research, which further limits the market. A center fire rifle caliber suppressor itself will probably have a list price of $600 to $1,600. Then there is the $200 tax and any dealer fees, and if you go that way, Trust costs. Of course, you can cut the cost significantly by making your own suppressor; you still have to go through the bureaucratic hoops and pay the $200 tax, but any other costs are just parts and your (only you, by law) labor. This could be under $30 dollars. It used to be popular to sell a device which screws onto your barrel and accepts an empty two liter pop bottle. It did not work all that well and the bottle quickly self-destructed, but it could be “enhanced” to make it work better. I’ve also heard of a similar adapter which allows screwing on an oil filter, but I have no idea how well it works. I’m surprised you can still get those adapters these days, but I found one place right off the bat which claims to sell them for $25 or so. It would not be legal to add the pop bottle and put it on (or even keep it ‘near’) the gun without the tax stamp, and I think it likely would be risky (without a legal alternate use) to even possess the adapter without the tax stamp. It probably would be better to go ahead and make a “real” suppressor as the performance would be better, it would be more durable, and the temptation to do without the tax stamp would be less. And that would make the higher cost worthwhile.
Once you receive the suppressor, you have to be careful to treat it as required by law, including if you ever want to get rid of it. This is one area where failing to dot all the “i”s and cross all the “t”s can have a seriously unhappy ending. For most NFA items, you are supposed to write the BATFE if you are going to take it out of your state, but it appears that is not necessary for short term jaunts with just a suppressor. Then again, who’s definition of “short term” applies?
Many suppressors force gas back through the ejection port due to “back pressure”, which is a source of noise and will bother your eyes (unless you are smart enough to be wearing protective glasses), as well as dirty the magazine and any rounds remaining in it. And if the suppressor screws on, some can unscrew themselves during use. Better ones either have a locking mechanism or tighten as you fire them. Some affect the point of aim; others not so much.
If you don’t want to mess with the BATFE or laws about suppressors, but do want to play with them, there is an interesting alternative. Because black powder muzzle loading weapons are considered “antiques” by the BATFE and thus not under their control, at least one company will sell, through the mail, without any tax or paperwork, a black powder rifle with integrated sound reduction device. Since it is integrated (cannot be removed and attached to a modern firearm), it is not considered a suppressor by the BATFE. Of course, California, New Jersey and Massachusetts are raising a fuss, so if you live there, you can’t get one currently. Illinois, New York and DC make you go through a FFL to get one, but seem to allow it currently.
(Editor’s Note: I have one and have fired it. The integrated “modifier” is a series of baffle chambers, like all suppressors, and this black powder rifle, in .50 cal, uses no wad as the wad residue will collect in the modifier and diminish its performance over time. The rounds are designed to sit on top of the compacted black powder with a cavity that is filled with the black powder when rammed home. NOT paying the $200 tax stamp and NOT doing all the required extra paperwork still brings a smile to my face.)
If cost is a problem, 22LR suppressors appear to be the least expensive option, with a list price of $200 to $500. Or occasionally you’ll find a “1/2 price” or better sale online. And keep an eye on the small companies; some of them are innovating like mad. A Texas company, rebelsilencers.com have “tubeless” suppressors, which mean the length (and thus the degree of quieting) can be easily changed. .22LR for $150 and .30 (good for any .30 caliber up to 300 Win Mag and any smaller caliber) for $300. And blackacestactical.com has the “Po Boy” line of rifle silencers for $199 each.
The Hearing Protection Act
There was a bill in Congress to remove suppressors from the NFA controls, allowing you to buy one exactly the same as buying a “regular” gun. This bill seemed to have had a pretty good chance, being good for people’s hearing and the environment and there being insignificant history of people using silencers in crimes. This bill died due to the Las Vegas shooting even though there was no suppressor involved directly or indirectly in that incident, since it was felt any pro-gun legislation would cause consternation amongst the feeble minded. Never mind the angst which anti-gun legislation would force on legal gun owners.
The costs of suppressors and annoyance of dealing with the BATFE have dissuaded me from getting a suppressor in the past, but then I got an offer from a place which was selling a major brand at half price. Apparently it was more the cost than the bureaucracy, and also the latest technology quickly fastens to and releases from the muzzle break rather than screwing on, so requires less fumbling and the gun does not look weird or have easily damaged threads when the suppressor is not installed. This was enough to tempt me, but before I got all my ducks in a row, they sold out. Thus, I decided to do in advance what I can so if I ever come across a deal like that again, I will be able to jump on it fast enough to take advantage.
First I went to a dealer I knew of right around the corner from me. The sign said they were closed, and looking through the windows, they looked really, really closed. This brings up an interesting point. What if the dealer who is holding your suppressor goes out of business or loses his license? It would likely be difficult to resolve; some people claim you own the silencer because you paid for it (keep your receipt!) and others claim that the store owns it because it has not been transferred to you yet (so you are just another creditor of the store). Fortunately, I knew of another place (big, with a long history) a few miles away. I got to fondle a few silencers; some of them were fairly heavy. The guy was able to answer my questions. Their transfer fee was $100, which included them filling out all the forms and taking the fingerprints and sending them where they need to go; there was no charge for these services if the suppressor was purchased from them. All I would need would be the two passport style photographs (like from Walgreens) and, if a Trust were used, two copies of the Trust document.
The fellow brought up an interesting point; .30 caliber suppressors actually work pretty good on a 5.56 as well. Neat; you can have one (heavy duty) suppressor and use it on all center fire rifles between .22 and .30 caliber.
Next I went looking for a Trust. I didn’t really find a local gun lawyer advertised who inspired confidence. I did find a Trust online which appears to be head and shoulders above the rest, and overcomes some of the problems with a “standard” NFA trust. This Trust is by Jim Willi, one of the top gun trust attorneys in Texas, and I could find only positive comments about him and his Trust. I could not understand how it could do what it says it can, so sent them an email. I actually got a call from Mr. Willi himself, who explained how it meets the letter of the new NFA regulations encouraged by a President Obama Executive Order. On the minus side of the new rules, the Trustees of the Trust now have to submit personal data, picture and fingerprints to the BATFE, but on the plus side, you don’t need CLEO approval any more, so your transfer can’t be blocked without cause (some CLEOs have been known to blanket refuse approval). It is still more involved than I hoped for, but much easier than I feared. Normally $130, it was on sale for $100. Before buying this (or probably any) Trust, make sure you have the full legal name of all the people who will be listed in the document, your own (hopefully), at least one Successor Trustee and at least one Primary Beneficiary. Including Secondary Beneficiaries might be a good idea in case all Primary Beneficiaries are unable to be used due to death, refusal or ineligibility. None of these people will have access to the suppressor until you die, so they don’t need to provide any information to the BATFE, sign the trust document, or even know they are listed in the Trust. You can also specify Co-Trustees in the original Trust, but then they will also have to send personal information, photo and fingerprints to the BATFE because they do have access to the suppressor. Plus, they must all sign the Trust document with you, in the presence of a notary, and removing them requires the Trust to be amended. It is easier to add or remove Co-Trustees in a separate document, and if they are added after the transfer is approved, they don’t need to submit anything to the BATFE until the next transfer is requested. You can add non-NFA guns to the Trust, which would also remove them from probate and public records, and would be useful if you ever decided to convert a regular gun to a NFA configuration. It might also be useful if some of the upcoming “assault weapon” legislation passes.
Now I should be ready for any future suppressor bargains. At any future time, I can:
1) Find a desired suppressor online or at a dealer
2) Make sure the dealer (still) does transfers for a reasonable price
3) Pay for the suppressor or order it to be sent to the dealer.
4) Have the dealer fill out the NFA paper work; I sign each copy and pay any fees and provide the $200 for the tax stamp
5) Provide two copies of the Trust document and passport style photos; They take my fingerprints
6) Wait for the tax stamp to be returned (per a call from the dealer)
7) Fill out form 4473
8) Take the suppressor home
9) Add Co-Trustees as desired (tax stamp should be approved before adding new Trustees but Trustees MUST be added before they have access to the suppressor)
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