Common Myths About Suppressors

Having used, tested, and written about weapons suppressors (mostly rifle)  for close to 25 years the mythology surrounding them remains surprising, at times astonishing. Too often those perpetuating the myths have seldom used one, but years of marketing for the sake of sales and prevailing politics has not helped.  Suppressors have improved over the years, but what they do or will not do is largely unchanged.  As they continue to grow in popularity it can be helpful to cut through the mythology, marketing and movie magic to see their true value. 

Silencers are NOT silent

Suppressors are various levels of quiet but with few exceptions never silent, the laws of physics and sound emission remain no matter the marketing, movie moments or political efforts. Cost and government regulation makes actual ownership rare for even the most fervent gun users let alone their detractors. Spending a grand up front to wait a year or longer to legally possess something is a tough sell no matter what it does.  As visible as suppressors are on social media, in the movies, and on the web they remain rare in the overall scheme of gun ownership making facts more myth than reality.  

Manipulation of sound measurement or effect for the sake of sales and  politics are also factors. Terms like “hearing safe” were thrown around for years. How “safe” they are without hearing protection is determined by numerous factors to include caliber, barrel length, ammunition, atmospheric conditions and even the hearing range of the shooter. Politicians who want to ban them say they are “silent”, the other side says they are safety tools, both tend to stretch the truth. The vast majority of ammunition is supersonic and will “crack” suppressed or not.  Subsonic ammunition is quieter but not silent.  Shorter barrels are louder for a number of reasons, not the least of which being how close they are to your head.  Bottom line is simple, a well-made suppressor will “suppress” and redirect sound, flash, and muzzle blast to varying degrees based on numerous factors,  but they are NOT silent to the shooter or anyone nearby, nor are they “hearing safe” in most conditions. 

Lies, Damn Lies, and Decibels! 

Throwing out numbers of no value outside a laboratory or test environment has plagued the industry for years. The magic “hearing safe” number of 140 dB is a perfect example, OSHA lists that number as a “pain threshold”, anything but safe. Most have abandoned both the number and term for good reason, it’s just not true. Companies like Dead Air Silencers have stopped using them all together with more following suit.  Their Nomad-30 sits on my Desert Tech SRS A2, shying away from the malaise of sound numbers has done nothing to hurt their sales, in fact their choice to tell the truth has made them incredibly popular. Unfortunately these numbers populate much of the media so here are a few for comparison.  

First thing to remember is decibel measurements are not linear. A drop of a couple decibels is noticeable, the difference between 135dB and 140dB is substantial. Unsuppressed center fire rifles will emit from 160-180dB, cause immediate hearing damage, ringing ears (temporary or permanent), pain, and permanent hearing loss.  Prolonged use in shoot houses have resulted in nose bleeds, broken eardrums, even brain damage.  Muzzle devices change that very little but can mitigate or aggravate the problem depending on where it’s directed.  Suppressors lower that to somewhere from 135dB to 145dB  sending sound and blast forward.  Subsonic ammunition will mitigate the “crack” and get lower numbers. The shorter the barrel the louder it is to you, the closer it is to your ear the greater the effect (or lack thereof).  Semi-autos are louder since sound is emitted at the ejection port (right by your ear). Many companies have started measuring at the shooter’s ear but not all, so published numbers can be misleading.  What looks quiet on paper may not be on your rifle.  Remember, what matters is how loud it is where and when you use your rifle, not where it was tested by the company. Use them as a means of comparison, not an expectation of reality and purchase according to need.  

So what do these numbers mean, well not much to be honest, they are ball park figures. No matter the published number using a rifle from inside your car, home, or compressed space will be different. Make no mistake, suppressors are a game changer in a fight, hunt, or even range time, it’s why the military is trying to suppress everything, but it is not magic and most come with negatives so do your research. 

So, why bother?

I probably sound a bit anti-suppressor, nothing could be further from the truth.  Suppressors can be invaluable fighting in close proximity or in enclosed spaces.  Every precision rifle I use is suppressed. Nothing ruins your day like someone next to you with a muzzle break. Fighting in close quarters is far more efficient without the sound and concussive effect. It’s critical to remember that “auditory exclusion” in a deadly force scenario is not a guarantee, nor does it prevent damage, just your memory of it.  Suppression protects your hearing, lessening the chance of long term effects and keeps those next to you in the fight. Depending on caliber, weight, and rifle design most people shoot better suppressed and pretty much everyone fights better that way.   

While suppressors do not “reduce” recoil adding a pound to the end of your rifle does. Recoil is all about inertia and weight is part of that equation. Putting it on the end of the barrel will reduce muzzle rise and movement and eliminates blast pressure at the shooter or those next to it, all making you better with the rifle. Whether on the range, street, competition, or defending your home a properly suppressed rifle can make a huge difference. Magic, nope, perfect, not even close, they all have their drawbacks, but in most cases it makes everything about shooting and or using your rifle better, and that is no myth.     

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