suppressor rifle
Nick Leghorn for TTAG
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By Timothy Wheeler, MD

What if a cheap, reliable method of preventing a common, but serious injury were available and ready for the market? As an ear surgeon who has seen hundreds of patients with irreversible noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), I would welcome it with open arms.

Too many people in our noisy world have suffered irreversible hearing loss. Only after experiencing it do they learn how socially isolating this entirely preventable injury can be.

Their family members also bear the burden of impaired communication, as many frustrated spouses can attest. The only effective treatment is hearing aids, a poor substitute for the intricate, ultimate-fidelity cochlea, the ear’s sound processor.

handgun suppressor silencer
Jeremy S. for TTAG

If such a useful hearing loss prevention method existed, shouldn’t the medical and public health world sing its praises and even promote it on its prominent media stage? Sadly, they wouldn’t if the injury-preventing device were a suppressor, the aftermarket firearm accessory commonly known as a silencer.

The public health community has long opposed saving lives and preventing injuries if it involves the use of firearms. Their intransigence reflects similar prejudice in our gun laws regulating suppressors.

For starters the National Firearms Act requires the prospective owner of a suppressor to apply to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) for a revenue stamp at a cost of $200. The states then apply their own restrictions up to and including making ownership illegal.

Readers may be surprised, as I was, to learn that suppressors are legal in most states, with the usual holdouts being the freedom-snuffing suspects like California, New York and Illinois. Recent years have brought a mini-flurry of states relaxing bans on their use by average consumers—hunters and sport shooters. It’s a long overdue adoption of a logical consumer safety feature for firearms.

Shotgun suppressor silencer
Courtesy SilencerCo

Suppressors are designed to diffuse the punishing sound energy of a cartridge firing from a gun—a sudden pulse of energy sufficient to injure or even kill the delicate hair cells of the inner ear. Although a bullet can still generate considerable impact noise after it exits the barrel if it travels at supersonic speed and causes a sonic “boom” or crack, a suppressor reduces its sound to a level that is much safer for the human ear.

Even a small .22 caliber round produces impact noise at a sound pressure level of around 160 decibels (dB), well above the limit considered safe by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). Larger caliber rounds in common use can produce 170 dB or more. A suppressor can reduce the measured impact noise by around 30 dB, which is the level of protection given by foam ear plugs or ear muffs.

Suppressors were invented in the early 20th century mostly as an effort to reduce noise pollution, a problem of growing concern then. One such innovation then for another popular and noisy consumer item was mufflers for auto engines. Suppressors were fairly uncontroversial until later in the century, when crime waves prompted corresponding waves of gun control legislation.

Most opponents of legalizing suppressors rely entirely on their knowledge of Hollywood bad guys screwing a silencer onto an ugly-looking black handgun, preparing for murder. They certainly don’t see on their big screens how hunters and their dogs can avoid hearing loss during the hunt, nor do they see junior shooting championship competitors being spared unnecessary permanent hearing loss in childhood.

It has taken a determined educational campaign to counter the ridiculous caricature of suppressors that the public has adopted from watching TV and the movies. But it seems to be working, as understanding steadily replaces ignorance.

AR-15 rifle suppressor silencer
Nick Leghorn for TTAG

Opposition to the use of suppressors seems to align with opposition to gun ownership in general, with stated reasons ranging from simple ignorance to the embarrassing to the downright nasty.

In response to an Illinois bill to legalize the hearing-saving devices, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart objected in this ABC News story on the grounds that gunfire noise in the neighborhood helps police more rapidly locate crime scenes.

This is a shortsighted reaction on two counts. First, all crimes committed with guns are vastly outnumbered by lawful uses of guns. Illinois’ current ban on suppressors, even if Chicago criminals faithfully comply, needlessly exposes millions to ear-destroying noise, a social cost that is obviously prohibitive. Second, it’s doubtful that the residents of high-crime areas view the sound of gunshots as a neighborhood improvement.

One sign that proponents of suppressors are winning the public debate is the ramping-up of hostile rhetoric from opponents. The author of this Salon article trots out every rabble-rousing trick in the book to denounce the public’s growing adoption of suppressors—ritual condemnation of the NRA, the Newtown mass shooting, and even potty-mouthed name-calling.

We’ve heard all of this before. When right-to-carry laws were sweeping the land, one law enforcement officer after another voiced their grave concerns — echoed by the media — that such laws would all but bring an end to civilized society.

When, in state after state, the dire predictions failed to materialize, most naysayers were pleasantly surprised, and they learned that regular citizens can be trusted with guns. They adjusted their attitudes accordingly.

The same lesson is rapidly being absorbed by the public in regard to firearm suppressors—a valuable tool of public health prevention if there ever was one.


Timothy Wheeler, MD is the founder and former director of Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership, a project of the Second Amendment Foundation.

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  1. June IS National Safety Month. How many hours of non stop programming on PBS have you seen on safety issues? You likely thought June was Butt Burglar month didn’t you?

  2. the democrats have been watching way too much hollywierd kill-crazy movies. VERY FEW SILENCERS ARE USED FOR ILLEGAL SHOOTING. a viable silencer needs reduced power,loads and special bullets for {silent} shooting. a suppressor is used for indoor ranges to lower the damage from blast related hearing loss. s suppressor stops the sharp crack from the weapon discharge, it dosn’t silence it . a silencer only works for a very limited amount of shots . a suppressor will not degrade after numerous shots like a silencer . 99% OF POLITICAL IDIOTS HAVE NEVER SHOT OR EVEN HEALD A SILENCER OR A SUPPERSSOR.

  3. The fact of the matter is silencers/ suppressors are going to be outlawed. The reason is because “they” can outlaw them.

    • That is incorrect; anyone can make one, and if they force the millions of registered suppressors in circulation to be surrendered for destruction, it will have several effects:
      First, it will delegitimize the entire NFA registry, and while the parts of hundreds, even thousands of suppressors will be surrendered, usually the serialized sleeves, the rest of the (now unregistered) cans will remain in circulation, and the ATF won’t be able to stymie, letalone stop it.
      Second, the manufacturers of suppressors will begin to offer complex, monocore “muzzle breaks” with very uniform exterior diameters. Anyone who can work a hacksaw will be able to convert them into highly effective suppressors, and at a lower price than such designs currently cost.
      Third, the ATF doesn’t want suppressors banned outright, because the $200 tax stamp is a major funding instrument for them.
      Fourth, various Republican-controlled states would simply legalize them for their citizens, which like decriminalization of Marijuana and Illegal Aliens, will be opposed by the Feds, but there won’t be a damn thing they can do about it.
      Fifth, delegitimizing the NFA will subject it to a SCOTUS challenge, which will result in the SCOTUS having to either uphold such registries as Constitutionally-protected law, or render a decision which makes all such registries UNCONSTITIONAL, thusly, prohibiting the existence of such registries; can you say “end of the machine gun registry”? Any hopes the Left has of doing a “Universal Background Check” to “close the Gunshow Loophole” will require a universal registry, which will never exist if they violate the agreement they have with every holder of a legal NFA item.

      • Given the NYC case currently on the SCotUS docket, I don’t see the Demokkkommies doing anything other than blowing hot air for the next 16 months. If they, by some miracle, get the White House and both houses of Congress, I’d be worried, but even that would be a minor worry if the NYC case goes the way most people are hoping it will.

        While the core issue of right to bear arms outside the home is more or less a sure thing, I’m hoping to see a clear review standard set for 2A cases. I’m hoping for strict scrutiny as that would make most of the cases in the pipeline a slam dunk. I think one of the reasons we’re seeing so little movement on other major 2A cases is because of everybody waiting for the other proverbial shoe with the NYC case. One way or another, it’s going to set the tone for 2A litigation for the next decade.

      • “Third, the ATF doesn’t want suppressors banned outright, because the $200 tax stamp is a major funding instrument for them.”

        BS. The ATF doesn’t even keep the tax stamp payments, and to be frank $200 wouldn’t cover the processing employees for a single form in any case.

        • This. If the BATF cared about the revenue, they would not let you wait for better part of a year to get your stamp.

  4. The fact that suppressors have not been removed from the NFA via the HPA, but are instead under attack and likely to go the way of the bump stock is why I will never again vote for President Trump.

    As a supposedly pro 2A president, he has instead taken more direct action against the 2A than his predecessor.

    No HPA == no Trump.

    • Yes, let’s hand the keys to the White House to creepy uncle Joe… that sounds like a GREAT plan.

      • I hate trump for his anti-gun postering, but will NEVER vote against him because ALL of the alternative are worse. Any gun person voting against Trump is an idiot.

        • It’s not posturing if he made gun laws worse. he is a anti gun politician. He has opened us up to new worse possible avenues of gun control. It’s not about bumpstocks.

          The lesser of two evils is a fallacy. the end result will be the same. More gun control. It’s just a matter of how much and when. This generation is going to fail the next one for the same reasons as the previous. Lesser of two evils.

  5. I don’t know if they’re going to be banned or not, but give it up any any sort of registry repeal where they can be sold off the shelf with no tax stamp. The HPA will never happen and it was dead in the water a long time ago.

  6. If the NFA was not in existence, every modern gun I own would be suppressed. As it is, I have to move cans around. This would also potentially reduce noise complaint problems by all of the morons that move next door to a gun range, and then sue to try to shut them down. Of course the goal is to just get the range shut down because they also hate guns. Europe and other parts of the world sell them over the counter, even with strict gun laws in place. I think that says something.

  7. Its another paid advertisement for the silencer industry

    Fact: The Conservative Supreme Court just ruled against Silencers as not being protected by the Second Amendment.

    The Republicans don’t want to take off the extreme vetting process as its a political grenade with the general public.

    The public at large recognizes them for what they really are and cannot be bullshitted about them as they realize they were invented to kill people silently as possible with a normally ear spitting firearm so that the killer has more of a chance of not only being successful but getting away murder as well.

    Most people that buy them admit “I bought it in case I ever needed it” which terrifies the public at large.

    In the coming years being that now they have become so popular expect more mass killings with them which will result in more and more States outlawing them and confiscating them. They are today a very risky investment which means you may have just threw over $1,000 right down the drain.

    • Yep and .45 bounces off of window shades, and 9mm pierces 1/4 inch of steel at 125 yards, right vlad?

      • Yup, and the six letter word that starts with “M”, meaning the front end of a firearm, is mufler, at least in LamPigVlad’s teeny little mind.

    • and yet in most other developed countries they are cheap and easy to buy over the counter…
      I wonder how many have been smuggled into the USA in personal baggage, household shipments, etc etc etc.?

    • I really, seriously, salute you, Vlad, and your bravery. To be willing to publicly post something that conclusively proves that you have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA what the f*** you are talking about, proudly??? Man, that takes some stones.

      Do yourself, and the rest of us, a favor, and get someone to put you some knowledge. Or, perhaps easier, given your quite limited mental capacity, just follow the injunction of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, and keep your mouth shut and let people assume you are a fool, don’t open it and remove all doubt.

    • Okay, one more time, with feeling now: Suppressor is a piece of pipe with some baffles in it. It’s very easy and cheap to make one. If the criminal is not dissuaded by possible punishment for the murder he’s planning, he’s not going to be dissuaded by additional charges for making and using a suppressor either. So, if criminals wanted to use them, they would already have them.

  8. I forgot to mention States that have outlawed them know damn well that poachers use them to illegally take wild game as well as assassinate people.

    The eight No-Go States are: California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island. In these eight states, private ownership of suppressors (aka “silencers”) is forbidden.

    • The number of times a suppressor has been used in an act of violence can be counted on one hand over the past decade. Same thing for registered machineguns, except expand the timeframe to “last century”

    • outlawed drugs…more out there now than ever,…cheaper than ever…more powerful than ever
      same happened with alcohol…total failure when they banned it

  9. Europe is just full of assassins with silencers/suppressors on their firearms, and the 1.3 milion suppressors in civilian hands in the US has caused so many assassinations that blood is running in thre streets.

    Chicago must have a lot of suppressors being used because the police have only had a 8.6 % homicide clearance rate in the last year. Those darn suppressors. Chicago is in Illinois and you cannot have one in Illinois to include Chicago.

    Vlad, fact check your SCOTUS claim. SCOTUS did not make that statement. Hint: Appeals Court.

    • “””””””””””””””””Vlad, fact check your SCOTUS claim. SCOTUS did not make that statement. Hint: Appeals Court.”””””””””””””””””””””””””

      Fact: The Supreme Court has done what it has always done down through history they ducked hearing a case over the Second Amendment but upheld the lower courts anti-gun ruling. THE RESULTS ARE THE SAME THE ANTI-GUN LAWS ALWAYS STAND, NOW WHAT PART OF THIS DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND????????

      • What I have trouble understanding, vladdy, is how such a low iq person as yourself manages to continue breathing without constant instruction.

        I’ll bet you think the war on drugs is a resounding success, don’t you?

      • Power of conflation does not work no matter how many letters you put in full caps.

        You wrote:

        “Fact: The Conservative Supreme Court just ruled against Silencers as not being protected by the Second Amendment”

        The fact is the Court did not take the case, therefore they did not rule on it. The Appeals Court made that ruling. What part confuses you?

        Do you believe that since the SCOTUS did not accept this particular case that it is settled law? How much influence did POTUS have in the decision not to take the case? Maybe he would have asked the Court to take the case had it been his second term. Who knows?

        There will be other cases, and eventually the SCOTUS will take up the issue. Until then we will keep showing the Hollywood version is full of exaggeration and the same prophecies of blood in the streets people had about concealed carry will be proven just as wrong.
        1.3 million are legally owned at this very moment, and who knows how many garage made versions exist, yet roving gangs of assassins are not out silently killing people, except in a few movies.

        • Someone should mention to him that more quote marks don’t add any credibility either. But I doubt that he knows what a quote mark is, any more than he knows the six letter word for the dangerous end of a firearm.

      • Maybe the part where you lied and called your lie a fact: “Fact: The Conservative Supreme Court just ruled against Silencers as not being protected by the Second Amendment.”

  10. So to get this straight

    The argument against silencers is:

    For public safety, firearms must be as ear-splittingly loud as is achievable, because reducing them to merely extremely loud is dangerous for reasons.

    That’s basically it, right?

  11. OK…they should be cheap and easily available…but if they can’t be either of those…
    should be an instant check like for guns…just with your fingerprints and a photo each time
    not even the $200…it’s the MONTHS-long wait…even if you already own NFA stuff and have had the thorough check done before

    • What do you need a background check for? A suppressor isn’t useful for anything except attaching it to the muzzle of a gun. If you’ve got a gun, you’ve already been checked. And if you’re buying a can and don’t have a gun, who gives a crap?

      Buy a gun… do a check.
      Buy ammo… do a check.
      Buy a scope… do a check.
      Buy a suppressor… do a check.
      Buy some time at the gun range… do a check.
      Buy a copy of Guns&Ammo… do a check.
      Sign on to TTAG… do a check.

  12. What if we put a 200 Dolla tax and 1 yr background ck and registration on all books,websites,emails,church any 1st amendment right>??? Sounds Fair Right?

    Do u think that would fly! NO! There would be pitchforks, torches, boiling hot pitch (tar) and feathers in the streets followed by mass hangings!

  13. Maybe we should blast out the hearing of all democrats and rinos and let them see what is like to lose a very important sense followed by blasting levels of ringing in the ears 24/7 disrupting our lives and sleep and causing people to not hear important conversations with their family and dangerous noises…driving people to suicides sadly..if that is not a Urgent 911 Public Health Concern..then there is none.

    To the younger peeps no one knew about hearing protection…it was never talked about @ least Pre 90’s..and it does not work for hunting unless they have something New that cost a million dollars…even then it sounds garbled and compressed and unnatural and u have no sense of direction.

    For home defense u better have something on that pistol,shotty,AR,AK or deer rifle cuz shooting indoors is way louder and u will be instantly deaf for life.

  14. I’m not sure what’s worse, the ignorance and stupidity exhibited on the “ban suppressors!” side or the ignorance and stupidity on display in this comment section.

  15. While hearing protection for those close to the gun is the primary benefit of suppressors, there is a valid secondary reason. Although my gun club’s range is out in farm country, there still are houses close enough to hear the shots. To be a good neighbor, the club already has restricted shooting hours. Within those hours, gunfire is pretty much continuous during good weather. I can understand why this would be wearing on the neighbors. Suppressors would eliminate the nuisance and open up the opportunity for dawn to dusk shooting every day.

  16. What is ridiculous is it takes a year to do a backround check for a suppressor, but I can have a instant check (O.K. it’s like 5 minutes) for a rifle or pistol? Really?

    WTF takes a year? So I can buy a firearm but not a muffler for my gun that takes a year?. If a person is criminal they think he’s going to wait a year to get a suppressor? .

    There is NO reason this couldn’t be completed on ATF 4473 and one phone call.

    It should be as simple as a gun purchase, Not a felon, Not an Illegal, Not a drug addict, Not convicted of domestic violence, OK and Done!.

  17. So if I exercise my legal and god-given right of self-defense (as codified in the 2nd Amendment) to protect my family within the walls of my home, the permanent loss of a good portion of my hearing is a reasonable price for the State to expect me to pay? It is unreasonable and unconscionable to demand that I pay a permanent price for exercising my right of self-defense when a solution is readily available even in countries that have far more restrictive firearms laws.

  18. The solution is simple: ban silencers and legalize suppressors (and take them off the NFA).

    What’s the difference? Define “silencer” as something that makes a gunshot with the intended ammo under 120 decibels. A “suppressor” is something that makes a gunshot quieter (hopefully within hearing-safe levels) but not below 120 decibels.

    Then, let opponents argue how the noise should be left at unsafe levels. And if they say something about special ammo that can still be silent, point out that it only works by underpowering it.

    • Where do you guys get this ish???? Ain’t no setch thing as a “silencer” (in the sense you obviously mean it). THE BEST suppressor technology out there reduces the report of a shot by a max of about 30 db. For a large caliber rifle, this reduces it to around 150 db – louder than most rock concerts. For a freakin’ .22, it reduces the sound to about 120 db – still as loud as most rock concerts.

      Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard all the BS about “special” silencers issued in Viet Nam and/or to SF guys, now – and I’ve challenged many on many blogs to put up or shut up, and not ONE person has been able to document or verify their claim of a “real” silencer. Please, save your urban legends for the gullible. A GOOD suppressor reduces noise signature by a max of around 30 db. PERIOD. Ain’t no setch animal as a “silencer”. If you are always this gullible, I’d like to play poker with you some time – I could use a new gun, and I’m sure I could scalp you out of the price in an evening.

  19. Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart is clearly a fucking retard that polices his locality using a “marco! polo!” technique.
    Of course, that’s bullshit and he does no such thing, and he’s a fucking retard for believing anyone would fall for such obvious nonsense.

    The brits/europeans recognize suppressors as safety devices, and they are readily available in gun stores along with many other firearm accessories. You can buy an 5.56 AR15 suppressor for around $200 over there.

  20. Hear is the mess we get into with the “Public Safety/Health” debate.

    One group (anti-RKBA)gets to virtue signal and appeal to all the pearl clutchers and soy-boys out there that don’t have the grit to live in a free society, while another group (pro-RKBA) tries to generate articles and arguments to appease those who don’t understand/appreciate/value Natural Rights.

    It’s untenable. Once we move off of Natural Rights being the god of the system, the purpose for civil government, the highest moral standard, we lose. And we moved off of that position a long time ago, like 1934NFA, 1968GCA, etc…(who was leading then?)

    As it was with Trumpstocks, now it is with suppressors. Wahhh! Someone committed a crime with a tool! We must ban the tool, for the love of all that is holy to our god! If we’ve accepted their god, we’ve conceded the argument. Theocracies are inescapable, the question is “Whose god will we worship?” or “By what standard?”.

    The funny thing is that gun owners have already been othered as sub-human “Deplorables”. Why do we think anyone cares about the hearing health of that group? You’d be better off making a case for the hearing of a dog, everyone would support canine audiological health! The premise of this article assumes that anybody would care if you or I went deaf. Have you seen the vitriol out there?

    We’ve swallowed the Public Safety argument so far down that we write silly articles like this one appealing to the mercy of people who are desperate to be ruled. They cry out “Kaiser Kyrios!” and we attempt to appease them in vain.

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