As gun suppressors are one of the items covered by the 1934 National Firearms Act (NFA), there’s a lot of mystery and misconception surrounding the topic. When I haul suppressors to my local range, I continue to be amazed by the number of people who still don’t know that they are legal to own in most states.
To me, use of suppressors is not just fun, it’s polite and safe. Yes, the shooting experience without the normal muzzle blast is highly addictive on its own. When you consider the positive side effects of hearing protection and reduction of environmental noise, use of a suppressor becomes a no-brainer.
Let’s get busy and spread the word. As suppressor use becomes more mainstream, the odds of that silly NFA regulation being repealed improve. Better yet, as more people buy them, prices will fall.
But first, lets examine four common misconceptions about suppressors.
It’s called a suppressor, not a silencer!
Note that I’ve only used the term “suppressor” so far in this article. That’s on purpose to make a point. Technically, these products should really be called silencers. Not because they silence gun shots, but because that was the original name.
Way back in 1902, a guy named Hiram Percy Maxim invented this device and called it… the Maxim Silencer. His invention didn’t completely silence a gunshot, but he still called it a silencer. I suppose that was his prerogative as the inventor. If the name Maxim sounds familiar to you, it should. Percy Hiram Maxim was the son of Hiram Stevens Maxim. Hiram Stevens was the guy that invented the first recoil-operated machine gun – you know, that clunky looking one with the big iron wheels.
So technically speaking, one is more correct using the word silencer. However, the industry latched onto the term “suppressor” for many years. Maybe because the term was more descriptive and probably more politically correct. In the past couple of years, you may have noticed more use of the term “silencer” by companies in the business. From here on out, I’ll use the terms silencer and suppressor interchangeably as both are correct.
It’s safe to shoot without ear protection!
Well, sort of. Danger related to sound exposure is a tricky thing.
First, the way sound is measured is complicated on its own. Most commonly, sound is measured by the decibel level, named after Alexander Graham Bell. The hard part is that decibels work on a logarithmic scale. This means that 20dB is not twice as loud as 10db – it’s actually about 10 times as loud. But we won’t get involved in all that. Just realize that a few decibels can make a huge difference in perceived noise. Heck, a 3dB decibel increase represents a doubling of sound energy.
Second, you have to worry about duration of exposure to loud noise. One momentary sound of 140 dB can permanently damage your hearing. But so can repeated exposure to sound levels less than that. In fact, OSHA limits average sound exposure over an eight-hour shift to 85dB – not a whole lot more than the noise of a vacuum cleaner.
Now back to guns. The venerable 1911, firing a 230 grain .45 ACP cartridge, will generate about 162dB of sound. One shot near unprotected ears will cause permanent hearing loss. Each additional exposure will add to that cumulative hearing loss. The problem is, you won’t know you’ve damaged your hearing until it’s too late, and nothing can be done to repair the damage. Always wear hearing protection folks!
Putting a suppressor on that 1911 will reduce the sound to somewhere around 133dB. That’s below the OSHA maximum exposure level. But you don’t want to expose your ears to a continuous barrage of 133dB noise either.
Bottom line? Silencers are great, and a massive improvement to hearing safety. Just be smart and use hearing protection anyway when firing suppressed. A shot or two here and there probably won’t hurt you, but you don’t want to spend hours at a shooting range surrounded by noise in the 130dB range.