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Silencer boom: Why more shooters are going over to cans

Jan. 14, 2013 - 04:56PM   |  
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No cans for you

Suppressors can be legally owned by individuals in all but the following:
• California
• Delaware
• District of Columbia
• Hawaii
• Illinois
• Iowa
• Massachusetts
• Minnesota
• New Jersey
• New York
• Rhode Island
• Vermont
Source: American Silencer Association

Recreational suppressor use is blowing up for some of the same reasons the Defense Department has made signature reduction on the battlefield a top priority: Aside from the tactical advantages of higher bullet velocity, suppressors make shooting safer by allowing better communication and shooter comfort.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives tracks these and other NFA devices — ATF calls them silencers; I prefer "suppressors" for accuracy — including short-barreled rifles and shotguns, machine guns, explosives and other destructive devices. ATF figures show that sales of new suppressors alone went up from about 3,000 in 2001 to nearly 23,000 in 2011.

This boom is despite an application bottleneck at ATF, where only nine examiners must review transfer applications of all types — not just for suppressors — to ensure each transfer complies with federal, state and local laws. In 2005, ATF processed 41,579 applications for transfers of controlled firearms and devices. By 2011, that number was up to 105,373.

What this means to you: You're at a gun shop in one of the 39 states that allow people to own a can and decide you want to buy one along with a factory-threaded pistol. Your dealer will help with the paperwork, but the wait from the time you apply to ATF to the time you can take your suppressor home is about six to eight months.

Your first

Putting a suppressor on a plinking pistol or rifle instantly and indelibly communicates the benefits of suppressor use.

The .22 can is like the gateway drug of the suppressor world. Thread one on and you'll never want to shoot any weapon without a can again. While a suppressor may cost as much as its host firearm, modern cans likely will outlast most gun barrels, so consider them a sound investment in your health and hearing that can be used for years on multiple .22 firearms.

The principle of operation is the same for all suppressors: Supersonic gases that follow the bullet out of the barrel are slowed and expanded using a series of baffled chambers. The muzzle crack is reduced so much that the cycling of the bolt on some firearms is louder than the suppressed muzzle's report.

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A suppressor core can comprise a series of stacked cone baffles or be made as a single-piece monocore. In a baffled core, a single baffle can be replaced and/or moved in the stack to account for wear or a baffle strike. You can't do that with a monocore, but monocores are easier to maintainthan equivalent K-baffle suppressors. And as dirty as .22 LR is, easier cleaning is a big plus.

If you're ready to buy a suppressor, you must make sure your host firearm is set up to accept it. Most .22 cans are industry standard ½-inch by 28 threads per inch. Since cans have become so popular, many pistols and rifles are now threaded at the factory. Factors to consider:

Noise reduction: Don't get wrapped up in decibel ratings down to the decimal point. All modern cans from reputable makers do the job. You may hear a little difference between two cans when shooting back to back, but who really does that? (Measuring a suppressor's performance with a smartphone sound meter won't work — the muzzle report isn't long enough for an accurate reading.)

Durability: The pressure wave behind the bullet spews hot gas, carbon and lead bits into the baffles. Lightweight materials will hold up fine in a rifle-length application, where muzzle pressures are lower and powder burns completely. On a pistol, though, unburnt powder, carbon and massive muzzle pressure necessitate stronger construction and materials to stand up to regular pistol use. Invest in a can that suits your use. Look for threads and blast baffle made of stainless steel or titanium for a can that will last.

Accessibility: .22 ammo is dirty, so invest in one of the recent designs with removable baffle stacks for cleaning. Stronger baffle materials, such as steel, will hold up to harsher cleaning methods that will erode softer materials such as aluminum.

Size and weight: Consider how heavier, longer devices will affect the handling of the host firearm. Suppressors with larger circumferences could block some low-set, notch-and-post pistol and rifle sights. Aside from performance matters, some folks want their weapons and cans to mate up, so look at the threaded end if you want a flush-fit look.

Associated costs: Aside from the cost of the suppressor, you'll also pay Uncle Sam a $200 tax to have the device transferred to your possession. If the muzzle of your firearm isn't compatible with the thread pattern of the suppressor you're considering, then you'll need to buy an adapter, which could cost anywhere from $20 to $50.

Ammo: Suppressors kill muzzle noise, but the crack of a bullet breaking the sound barrier happens downrange and can be defeated only by using subsonic ammunition. Caveat: Pistols differ from rifles here. Most pistols barrels aren't going to push a .22LR bullet supersonic. No supersonic crack means no need for subsonic ammo.The cheap stuff, such as Remington subsonic, works, but it's dirty and not very consistent. CCI makes a reliable round, but Gemtech is the first suppressor company to design, source and market its own .22 cartridge, which is reliable, consistent and accurate for suppressed .22 plinking, competition and varmint hunting.

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