When it comes to firearms accessories, “silencers” are probably the most misunderstood. So if you’re looking for the facts and wondering “are silencers legal?”, you’ve come to the right place.
Are Silencers Legal and Other Interesting FAQs
1. The First Silencer Was Patented in 1908
Hiram Percy Maxim patented the first gunshot-muffling accessory in 1908, calling it the “Maxim Silencer.” While the name is somewhat misleading (keep reading to find out why), we still call it a “silencer” today for this very reason.
Even though modern companies are making steady improvements in technology, the basics remain the same.
With that said, the Maxim Silencer wasn’t commercially successful because of its weakness, which was being prone to excessive heating.
The design wasn’t able to handle the friction caused by the swirling gases properly.
It was also very expensive to make and to own, especially after the National Firearms Act of 1934 imposed a transfer tax and lengthy federal registration process on silencers.
2. Silencers Don’t Silence, They Suppress
Unlike in the movies, a silencer doesn’t reduce all of the noise made when firing a gun. Nor does it replace the bang with a cute little “pew pew” sound.
Instead, they suppress the noise, lowering the volume’s intensity to a hearing-safe level. This is why the firearm industry has been moving toward calling the accessory a suppressor instead.
You can hear the difference between a suppressed and non-suppressed 9mm being fired in this video.
3. They’re Quite Effective – But You’ll Still Need Hearing Protection
Even though suppressors are quite effective at what they do, you’ll still want to use hearing protection.
Yes, you’re less likely to develop hearing problems if you forget your earplugs but use a silencer.
After all, the silencer will suppress the noise levels to a relatively safe level. But it’s not a good long term situation.
Generally speaking, a .22 rifle with standard velocity ammunition will produce about 140 dB of sound – which, according to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), is loud enough to cause permanent hearing loss.
An AR-15 firing 55-grain Full Metal Jacket ammunition will produce 165 dB of sound.
When you add a suppressor, the .22 rifle’s noise production is reduced to between 111 dB and 116 dB on average.
The AR-15 is reduced to about 132 dB (which is still barely below the level where permanent damage is caused).
Here’s the thing though: over time, anything above 85 dB will still cause permanent hearing loss.
So just because you’ve slapped a suppressor onto the barrel of your firearm, doesn’t mean you have an excuse for getting sloppy with your hearing protection.
4. The “Pew Pew” Sound Isn’t As Wrong As You Think, Though
Even though the movie sound isn’t accurate, it isn’t completely wrong either.
In 2017, the YouTube channel The Social Regressive discovered when firing a .22 rifle with a suppressor and subsonic hollow-point ammunition, his downrange microphone started picking up the same “pew pew” sound at about 100 yards.
You can check out the video here.
So what does this mean?
Well, as he mentions at the beginning of the clip, it’s likely the Hollywood “pew” sound is, thanks to a foley artist who knew his way around the gun range and wanted to recreate the effect so there’s at least some realism in the movies!
However, it’s still important to remember that this isn’t the same sound you’ll get with all ammunition types and firearms.
5. There Are Two Stages to a Suppressor’s Function
If you were to take a look at what happens inside a suppressor when you discharge your firearms, you’d notice there are two stages.
When you fire a gun, the projectile is accompanied by a lot of hot, high-pressure gas. In the video linked below, you can actually see how these gases escape in a reverse mushroom shape.
These gases account for most of the sound released when you fire a gun.
With a suppressor attached, those gases are trapped by the section closest to your barrel. The second half of the suppressor acts as a flow restriction, preventing the gases from escaping immediately.
Instead, the gases are rapidly cooled by the internal baffles and then slowly released. They still emit some sound, but its volume is suppressed.
You can watch this happening and have an engineer explain the process in this video.
6. Silencers Are Legal in 42 States
Okay, time to answer the big question: are silencers legal?
As the subheading already tells you, they are indeed legal for private ownership – and in 42 states, no less! And right now, you don’t need any kind of license to own one either.
There are still a few caveats, of course. To legally own a suppressor, you need to meet the following qualifications:
- Reside in one of the 42 states that permit civilian ownership
- Be a US resident
- Be legally allowed to own a firearm (for example, no prior felonies)
- Pass a BATFE background check
- Be at least 18 years old if you’re purchasing your suppressor from another private citizen
- Be at least 21 years old if you’re purchasing your suppressor from a registered dealer
If you’re a manufacturer, peace officer, law enforcement or other government agency employee, or an FFL dealer, then you can legally own a silencer in other states as well.
Right now, the only states that do not allow citizens to own a suppressor are:
- New Jersey
- New York
- Rhode Island
It’s also illegal to own a suppressor in the District of Columbia.
Additionally, hunters may not use a suppressor in Connecticut and Vermont.
7. There’s Still a Process to Follow
Some things haven’t changed since the National Firearms Act of 1934 was enacted. You still need to pay transfer tax and go through a lengthy federal registration process if you want to own a suppressor!
Basically, you need to send in your application via the dealer you’re purchasing your silencer from. If it’s accepted (which can take months), you’ll get the form returned to you with a stamp.
Know Your Silencer
Are you thinking of getting yourself a silencer?
Hopefully, now that you know a little more about the tool, you can better appreciate why suppressors are a very good thing all firearms owners should be allowed to use without restriction!
Do you have other interesting facts to add about silencers? Share them in the comments section!
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on June 02, 2020, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.