In the market to buy a suppressor? We give you the NFA history, purchase considerations and top new models to help you hush up your gun.
What Are The 3 Best Suppressors For 2019:
In 1934, the National Firearms Act became law. The National Firearms Act (NFA) requires the registration, with the federal government, of fully-automatic firearms (termed “machineguns”), rifles and shotguns that have an overall length under 26 inches, rifles with a barrel under 16 inches, shotguns with a barrel under 18 inches, and firearm sound suppressors (termed “silencers”). Although modern terminology often refers to silencers as suppressors, silencers don’t actually silence a firearm — they only reduce the noise level, but for clarity in this article, I’ll be using the term “silencer.”
Prior to 1934, silencers, machine guns and short-barreled rifles and shotguns weren’t regulated. The idea of requiring a $200 tax stamp was to seriously curtail private ownership of the affected items. In 1934, $200 was a princely sum, equating to $3,774 in 2018 dollars. The cost of the tax stamp has never changed, making it a reasonable addition to the cost of a firearm or silencer.
Because of this and because of the concept of using a trust for NFA items, silencers are one of the fastest growing segments of the firearms market. Silencers have real advantages to shooters who shoot in more populated areas, and many states have adopted laws that allow them for hunting. Silencers potentially make training new shooters easier because the loud report of a firearm contributes to the involuntary reaction we often refer to as “flinch.”
If you’ve never shot silenced firearms, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much fun it is to shoot without the need for hearing protection. The report of sub-sonic ammunition is often so quiet that you can hear the action of the firearm, and centerfire rifles like the .223 Rem. and .308 Win. are no louder than an unsilenced .22 rimfire.
There are two systems of silencer operation: dry and wet. Wet systems are quieter and allow the use of a smaller and lighter body, but they are effective for a limited number of shots before replenishing.
We're Making Noise About Suppressors:
Unfortunately, there’s no silencer that will do everything well. Theoretically, you could make a silencer that would effectively work on almost any gun you own, but it would be too bulky and heavy for some applications and impede the operation of some firearms. Because silencers can’t be easily transferred from one individual to another like regular firearms products, it’s a good idea to think through what your needs are and make a wise and informed choice. Serviceability, bulk, weight and level of noise reduction should all be considered to make sure you choose wisely.
While no silencers are truly silent, generally speaking, the rimfire silencers come closest to being “Hollywood quiet.” With sub-sonic ammunition, you can often hear the sound of the hammer falling in guns that aren’t semi-automatic.
For rimfire silencers, you should consider serviceability. Rimfire ammunition is inherently dirty, and the silencer must be periodically cleaned. Silencers work like the muffler on your lawn mower: There are chambers and baffles that redirect high-speed gasses and reduce them to sub-sonic speeds while enclosed in the housing. Those surfaces pick up carbon and lead from inherently dirty rimfire ammunition. Without regular cleaning, the silencer will eventually be rendered useless. All rimfire silencers are designed to be disassembled and cleaned. Some have individual baffles and some use a mono-core design with fewer parts.
Weight and bulk are another consideration, because most silencers are mounted on the end of the barrel and affect the balance and feel of the firearm, especially in pistols. Providing the same level of sound reducing engineering, the volume of the silencer body contributes to sound reduction, so the smaller silencers are generally not as quiet.
For centerfire pistol silencers, cleaning is also required — though not as often as with rimfires — provided jacketed bullets are used. Again, weight and volume affect the way the gun handles, and centerfire pistol silencers must be larger and heavier than rimfire silencers because they handle a much larger volume of gas. Because of cylinder-to-barrel gap, silencers don’t really work with revolvers and the added weight of the silencer on the barrel of recoil-operated pistols will cause operational problems unless steps are taken.
Because most centerfire pistols use the tilt barrel method of operation, the barrel has to move back in the slide and unlock for semi-auto operation. The added weight of the silencer restricts the movement of the barrel due to added weight, and the barrel can’t move properly to unlock, preventing semi-auto operation.
The solution to this problem is to prevent the silencer’s weight from impeding the slide by letting it float forward during recoil and snap back into position once the recoil cycle is complete. Different companies achieve this differently, but the effect is the same: When the gun fires, the silencer compresses a spring and slides forward during recoil, returning to its original position at the end of the cycle. Because of the weight bearing down on a barrel in a slide, there’s likely to be a change in point of impact.
Generally, centerfire rifle silencers also have to deal with much higher pressures than rimfire or pistol-caliber silencers, and they must be constructed to handle that pressure. As a result, they’re normally heavier and constructed of materials that handle the pressure. The good news is that silencers used for high-speed rifle calibers generating at higher pressures tend to clean themselves. In most situations, direct-impingement gas-operated guns with silencers are likely to require more cleaning because of the back pressure generated by redirecting the gas inside the canister.
Another factor that also applies to pistol and rimfire silencers is the sonic impulse generated by the projectile in supersonic ammunition. As a result, there will be an easily discernable “crack” generated by the bullet, no matter how effective the silencer. This is the reason the .300 Blackout has become a popular caliber for AR 15 platform rifles. Sub-sonic loadings in .300 Blackout are commercially available that will take down medium-sized game like hogs and deer with a much less audible report, making them popular for controlling hog and deer predation.
Top Suppressors For 2019
One of the smallest rimfire silencers is the Bowers Bitty. At just 2.6 ounces with a diameter of 1 inch and a length of less than 3 inches, the Bitty is the smallest and lightest magnum-rated rimfire silencer. It may not be as quiet as larger silencers, but it’s still “hearing safe.” The Bitty uses three baffles in a titanium tube with aluminum caps on both ends for easy cleaning. It has a black Cerakote finish and is rapid fire capable. MSRP: $325
An interesting approach to silencers is SilencerCo’s Hybrid. Designed to handle a broad range of calibers from 9mm to .45/70 Govt., it has a titanium housing and heat-treated stainless-steel baffles. The finish is grey Cerakote and it weighs 13.8 ounces with the direct thread mount. It’s a bit less than 8 inches long and just over 1.5 inches in diameter. It provides hearing safe (below 140 Db) suppression in every caliber from 9mm to .458 SOCOM.
Modular in nature, it’s available with different direct and quick-release mounts, as well as piston housings and front caps for pistol use. Obviously, anything that’s made to work over a broad range of applications may not be the optimum choice for a specific application, but since there’s such a significant advantage to versatility in silencers, the Hybrid is a remarkable solution. MSRP: $799
While it’s easy to see hunting and recreational applications for silencers, silencers can have a viable advantage in personal defense. Anyone who’s ever fired a gun in an enclosed space — like a vehicle or building — knows that the sound is much worse than in an open environment. In fact, firing a centerfire handgun in an enclosed space precludes reasonable hearing for a substantial amount of time and is likely to do permanent damage.
The Gemtech Aurora 2 is designed for just such situations. It’s a wet system micro 9mm silencer that weighs just 3.2 ounces with a length of just 3.3 inches. Originally designed for downed military pilots, it uses eight replaceable “wipes” inside the tube located by aluminum spacers. No booster device is needed for semi-auto use because it’s so light. The “wipes” will only suppress sound efficiently for about 20 shots before they need to be replaced, but the advantage of being able to hear during a defensive situation is potentially lifesaving.
Because lead, frangible or jacketed bullets could possibly begin expansion when they contact the wipes, it’s designated for use with FMJ ammunition only and is also rated for rapid fire. MSRP: $399
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the January 2019 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.