Flip through a magazine, watch a couple YouTube videos, or mindlessly scroll Instagram and you're likely to see suppressors everywhere. That's because we all have them right?
A conservatively estimated 100 million Americans own firearms. That number likely picked up a few million during the 2020 panic buys. According to the FBI there are 1.8 million registered suppressors. 100 million gun owners / 1.8 million suppressors = 1.8% of gun owners have a suppressor. Remind yourself that most folks who own a suppressor own more than one (we have three that we'll be talking about) and that 1.8% is optimistically closer to 1%. With that in mind I though we'd share some of our experiences because they entail some things that the rest of the media seems to not mention much.
I wish everyone had suppressors, the range would be a much more comfortable place. Don't let my lists intimidate you, I mean only to help people consider things before making an investment. We don't do much with cans on video because if we did we'd be unintentionally lying to you. Suppressors can artificially alter the performance of a firearm. Accuracy and reliability are changed by having a suppressor. You can make bad guns run better and good guns run worse with a suppressor and ammo choice. Because so few Americans own suppressors, and most likely not the specific cans we own adding a can would create false results.
With that out of the way let's get into the cans.
Choosing a Can to Buy: There are many factors to consider including:
What caliber do you want to suppress? This impacts not only the bore diameter of the suppressor, but also the material it can be made from. There are lightweight suppressors that can handle pistol pressures, but would pop if put on a rifle. The shorter the rifle barrel the tougher the can has to be as it will be handling more heat and pressure. For example there are .30 rifle cans that have limits to how short the barrel can be for each of the calibers they can accept. That barrel length minimum also changes if you have a QD mount and what kind of mount. So know what you want to suppress and how long or short the barrel will be. Keep in mind it may be a year before you take the can home for the first time, so buy for the future.
Does that caliber suppress well? Suppressors take care of the noise from a round being fired, but can't stop the sonic crack as a bullet breaks the sound barrier. That sonic crack is not hearing safe in most environments, and unpleasant at best. Most rifle calibers are supersonic unless you buy special ammunition. Most of those subsonic rifle loads will have a significantly different trajectory and offer significantly less energy than their supersonic originals. For example 5.7x28mm in a 40gr subsonic load is...40gr subsonic....just like many .22lr loads. The difference is the 5.7x28mm costs A LOT more. This is why calibers like 45acp and .380acp are popular to suppress; they're naturally subsonic. No special ammunition required and the round behaves as usual. 300 Blackout made quite the noise when it came out as subsonic loads were plentiful, and the supersonic options were affordable. The problem is the same barrel that performs accurately with 110gr supersonic tends to not do so well with 220gr subsonic. So you can be accurate, or quite, but not both. Get a barrel twist ideal for the subsonic ammo and now your affordable supersonics will suffer. The good news is even if you planning for supersonic rifle loads only it will still be quieter with a can on it, just not hearing safe. You'll lose the boom, but still have a crack.
What platform is that caliber (bolt action, semi, pistol?) This makes a bigger difference than you might think. Your rate of fire also dictates how strong of a can you might need. It also effects whether or not you will need a Nielsen device (a spring-loaded coupler that allows the barrel to pull away slightly during cycling, necessary for most semi-auto pistols). If it's a simple bolt action rifle or PCC you can save some money with a can made for direct-thread, but you're stuck with that if you decide to move the can to another rifle.
How much weight are you willing to add to the end of your barrel? While shopping suppressors most will list their weight. While it may not seem like much, keep in mind that weight will be on the end of the barrel, with the greatest leverage against you. Saving a few ounces might be worth adding a couple bucks to your purchase unless you plan on only bench shooting. For pistols, a platform that exists for convenience and portability, you can plan on doubling the overall length if you want things to be quiet. Keep in mind that with many rifles the weight will also change your point of impact and possibly accuracy.
How rapidly do you plan to shoot? If you don't want to keep a stopwatch next to you while shooting you may want to consider a can that is full-auto rated. Even if you're not a mag-dumper keep in mind that your can is absorbing a lot of heat. Just while grouping at a moderate cadence our can hit over 700 degrees forty rounds in on an 11" 7.62x39mm. That's enough heat to impact accuracy, some of that heat will transfer to your barrel. Additionally, an unwrapped (think really expensive, tube-shaped oven mitt) suppressor causes mirage that will distort your view through an optic. Shooting suppressed may require a slower rate of fire than you're accustomed to.
The Buying Process: So you've found what looks like it's the can you want. What happens from there? You can order one online or in person to have it transferred to the shop of your choice who has paid the Special Occupation Tax (SOT), another fee the government makes dealer pay to be able to handle suppressors, machineguns, and other categories of firearms. The manufacturer or online vendor must then get permission from the government to send the suppressor to your local shop. This process took 3-6 weeks in my experiences. Remember, you've already paid for the can, but you can't start the paperwork process until it arrives at your local shop.
Once the local shop has the can in hand you can begin the paperwork. It's mostly straight forward like a usual gun purchase, but requires a photograph of you and your fingerprints. Your state may have additional requirements, here in Oregon it's just the federal circus. You'll need to decide if you want this suppressor in your name only (individual) or if you want it in the name of a trust. There are plenty of great guides out there assembled by legal professionals that can help you decide which route is right for you. In general a trust lets members of that trust use the can. An individual transfer is for life. The suppressor can not be sold or transferred and must be destroyed when the owner passes.
After the paperwork is filled out and submitted, the federal government will cash your check or charge your credit card the $200 tax. You're actually purchasing a stamp that they will give to you once they've run a background check. As far as I understand it, no more is done by the BATFE, just a simple NICS check like you do when you buy a gun. Why the long wait? Well you've got to wait for one of the employees of an understaffed department to get to your name in the list. In my experience this process averaged eight months, but some have had approval in three months, others waited over a year.
After what seems like an eternity you'll be notified that you can pick up your suppressor from the shop! What should you be doing while you wait? I've got some poignant experiences discussed in the video with my suggestions.
Now it's time for magic shush-shooting? Congrats, you've got your can, now it's time to go make not-as-much noise! Hopefully you've heeded my warnings in the video and made some good choices, have the ammo and platforms ready, go enjoy the quiet!
You may find it's not as quiet as you expected. Hollywood and video games do a good job of making things seem silly quiet. With the right platform, caliber, and can combination they can be, but don't expect your standard AR to be stealthy, or even run reliably by merely slapping a can on it.
Graham Just Wrecked My Dreams Not true, I want people to understand that there is a lot to go into creating the experience you hope to achieve. The firearm, caliber, ammunition, and suppressor are all variables to take into account. If only 1% of gun owners have a can chances are you haven't had many people you could ask about it. I'm just tossing in my experience to help others.
If you're one of the few that own a suppressor let us know what your experiences have been. Did you get the right can? Any regrets? What has worked well or not worked well for you?