I have not written an article on gun control in a while, but since people have something new that they don’t actually understand to freak out about, it’s time once again to take off my Writer hat and put on my Gun Nut hat.
Today’s topic is suppressors, also known as silencers, which are basically car mufflers but for guns. Some folks are having a giant hyperbolic come apart because Congress is thinking about making suppressors easier for people to own. Note, they are already perfectly legal to own, but the process to get one is convoluted and stupid. This law would just get rid of the convoluted and stupid part.
For full disclosure, my gun related resume is listed at the beginning of this article. http://monsterhunternation.com/2015/06/23/an-opinion-on-gun-control-repost/ I own a whole bunch of suppressors, I’ve used dozens of different types of suppressors, and I owned a gun store that sold NFA items. Basically I’ve shot more rounds in a single burst than most of the people I’m arguing with have shot in their lives.
So when I see posts like the one copy and pasted below, I know how doctors must feel when some anti-vaxxer is “educating” them about how their healing crystals and essential oils will rebalance their chakras to prevent autism.
The following post is from author Elizabeth Moon, who is an extremely good science fiction writer, but who apparently knows jack shit about guns. Which is kind of sad, since she was a Marine. There is so much wrong with this post that later on I’m going to have to break it down and fisk it line by line, but here it is first in all its magnificence.
So the House is once again trying to sneak through a bill that deregulates silencers on personal weapons. Yes, they really want us all dead…they really want to make it easier for their right wing goons to shoot us and not be heard doing so. Their excuse is that firearms are noisy and the noise can damage a shooter’s (or their hunting dogs’) hearing.
Uh huh. And can keep people from knowing there’s someone going around shooting people, so they’re easier to shoot, and nobody knows it’s happening. No witnesses, no investigations, no prosecutions. Enabling careless irresponsible hunters (the kind who shoot people “by accident” without being noticed. Enabling assassins and terrorists, who shoot people on purpose for political or personal ends.
Because seriously, people have been hunting with noisy rifles and shotguns a long time and seem to be able to get along quite well by sticking those earplugs or headgear on before they actually shoot. People in this country are not going hungry because they can’t kill enough deer or rabbits or quail or elk to survive. And game is spotted visually more often than heard (migratory waterfowl perhaps excepted.)
No, guys, this is not reasonable. This is stupid and serves only to enrich the firearms industry which is already rich enough to pay a huge amount lobbying you. They’re making a profit already. Let this alone.
Wow… Okay. There is so much nonsense in there that it is going to take some time to refute it all. This is a perfect example of Brandolini’s Bullshit Asymmetry Principle, in that it takes an order of magnitude more effort to refute bullshit than to create it.
First off, it’s education time. How do suppressors work and why do we use them? When a cartridge is fired, the gun powder burns extremely rapidly, and this creates pressure which forces the bullet down the barrel. When those hot expanding gasses escape into the atmosphere, it is rather energetic and extremely loud.
If you’ve ever been around a really loud bang, you may have noticed that afterwards your ears ring. I’ve got some bad news for you, that ringing means you’ve permanently damaged your hearing. When that fades you will have lost some measure of hearing, and hearing damage is permanent and cumulative. The more of these loud bangs you are exposed to, the greater the damage. It will never get better. It will only continue to get worse.
I was a firearms instructor for about a decade and spent a lot of time running ranges and teaching people. I was religious about wearing my hearing protection, but if you spend enough time on the range you will be caught unaware eventually and somebody is going to touch something off right after you take your muffs off.
I have tinnitus. Basically, there is literally no sound of silence in my world. For me it is a constant ringing noise that’s about the same pitch as my lawn sprinklers. I also can’t pick up a lot of things in higher ranges, like for many years, my daughters’ voices. If you’ve ever spoken to me in the dealer’s room of a con, you’ll notice that I tend to lean over the table to get close to the speaker. That’s not because I’m being weird, it’s that I can’t understand you, especially in a room with background noise that aggravates the perpetual ringing.
I’m not alone. I’m sure audiologists love old gun nuts because they sell a lot of hearing aids that way.
Guns are loud, but are also incredibly useful. If you want to be proficient with a firearm, you must practice with it. So we put up with the loudness and put things in or over our ears in order to mitigate the damage as much as possible.
However, muffs slip. It is really easy to break the seal of an ear muff when you place your cheek on the stock of a rifle. Boom. Hearing damage. Or that little foam plug in your ear isn’t squished in quite right, or deforms and falls out? Boom. Hearing damage. I used to hate when I came home from a long day teaching a class, and I’d hear that ring that told me that at some point I’d screwed up. Because there’s no going back.
Suppressors were invented to mitigate that danger. You can call them silencers too, that’s fine, but Silencer was a brand name, not a particularly true description. It’s like Xerox or Kleenex. Many of us gun nuts just refer to them as cans, because that’s basically all they are.
I wasn’t joking when I said they work exactly like the muffler on your car. As those expanding gasses from the burning gun powder escape the muzzle, instead of flying outward to bombard those delicate little hairs in your ears, the gasses are trapped in a can screwed onto the end. That’s basically it.
Cans are usually filled with something that increases the interior surface area that gives the sound waves more things to bounce off of. In the olden days we used things like rubber gaskets, steel wool, grease, and all sorts of other stuff. Nowadays since good precision machine tools are common and cheap, most of them use metal baffles. The hardest part about building a can to last is dealing with the temperature. That energy which would normally escape as noise gets trapped as heat. Cans get hot fast.
So if you screw a suppressor onto the end of your gun, usually it isn’t going to make it silent. Not even close. The actual noise reduction is going to vary greatly depending on a whole bunch of different factors. The quality and construction of the can is secondary to the power level of the gun. The more powerful the boom, the more can required to contain it. It’s all about the amount of expanding gasses escaping that muzzle.
Also, most bullets are supersonic. Just like a fighter jet, when that bullet breaks the speed of sound it is going to make a sonic boom. Though since bullets are much smaller, it is more of a sonic crack. The baffles in a modern can never actually touch the bullet, so they do nothing about the bullet breaking the sound barrier.
I won’t get into decibel ratings (which are indecipherable gibberish to most folks anyway) but if you slap a suppressor onto a standard rifle, shooting standard ammunition, it is still pretty loud. It is still noticeable by anybody nearby. Everybody is still going to hear the sonic crack of the bullet. Only for the shooter is doesn’t feel like you’re getting hit in the ear canal with a hammer.
Regular pistols with regular ammo aren’t movie gun quiet. Not even close. In the movies the hit man shoots somebody with his 9mm and the people in the next room don’t hear it. Bullshit. A suppressed 115 grain standard 9mm sounds like taking a big ass dictionary and slamming it down as hard as you can flat on a hardwood floor. WHUMP. Bystanders are still going to hear, it’s just not as sharp.
There’s also the mechanical action of the gun working. On a semi-automatic firearm, the action is still going to cycle, and that also makes a pretty distinct noise. Bullet impacts are surprisingly loud, especially when they land close to you.
Can you get a gun movie quiet? Yes. It is possible, however it means using slow, subsonic ammunition that never breaks the sound barrier, a high quality can, on a manually operated firearm like a bolt action. The easiest way to do it is with a weak little .22, though there are bigger specialty subsonic calibers (not cheap, but fun), but There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. All of those are going to suck over any kind of distance because slow bullets drop fast, which means you can’t hit crap because you have a trajectory similar to a rainbow.
Basically, cans aren’t magic. All this stuff is just basic physics.
Suppressors are also perfectly legal at the federal level, and legal in most US states right now. The law regulating them dates back to the 1930s (the National Firearms Act) and it doesn’t make a lick of sense. The NFA is like the poster child for silly pointless government inefficiency.
Quick version, in order to purchase a suppressor you need to get it from a special kind of gun dealer (an SOT Title 3 or 7, which I was). Then you fill out some special federal paperwork and pay a special tax ($200) to the BATF. This paperwork (the Form 4) is actually pretty simple, the kind of thing that could be done over a website, or processed by a private company with a couple days turn around, but the BATF takes about a YEAR (not a typo) to cash the check, stamp the paper, and mail it back to you, so that you can take possession of your suppressor.
The last can I bought it took the ATF nine months to approve it, which is actually pretty good. I’ve had them come back in as fast as four months, and as long as eighteen. I’ve got two stamps that I’m waiting for right now. It’s not like they’re doing a rigorous background check that whole time or anything. That’s all done instantly with a computer database. It is literally just a year of waiting for a government employee to work through the stack, to stamp your paper and put it in their registry. (yet somehow people still thought the government was going to improve healthcare? Go figure)
Basically, these things are already legal, and lots of us already own them. I’ll get back to just how many of us later.
The thing that congress is talking about doing is moving suppressors from the NFA, to treating them like they were regular guns. The NFA is bloated, inefficient, slow, and basically a useless relic requiring 1934 level tech. We have a National Insta Check System already for firearms purchases, so there’s no reason they couldn’t just use it instead. Personally, I think they’re just glorified pipes, so even treating them like a firearm is kind of silly, but it’s an improvement over our current archaic system.
Now let’s break down Elizabeth Moon’s hyperbolic silliness, line by silly line.
So the House is once again trying to sneak through a bill that deregulates silencers on personal weapons. Yes, they really want us all dead…
That’s just stupid. If congress wanted us all dead it would be easier to just put the democrats from Flint in charge of our water supply.
they really want to make it easier for their right wing goons to shoot us and not be heard doing so.
That’s right. Congress wants roving bands of redneck ninja death squads, silent but deadly, offing delicate Bambi-like progressives who were just standing on the corner minding their own business.
It was that stupid line which caused me to write this blog post. I like Moon’s books, but that line took the gold in the thousand meter moron.
Their excuse is that firearms are noisy and the noise can damage a shooter’s (or their hunting dogs’) hearing.
Nope. That’s perfectly true. Already detailed above. A single gun shot will cause hearing damage, and all hearing damage is permanent and cumulative. I mentioned how suppressors are already legal here, but they are considered normal safety equipment in some European countries, and it is considered rude to shoot at a range without one.
That is my excuse. I’ve shot a lot, but I’ve never even joined a single right wing murder squad… I must be doing this wrong.
Plus, deaf dogs? That’s just sad. I didn’t even think of that. Poor things. HPA now! Won’t someone think of the puppies?
And can keep people from knowing there’s someone going around shooting people, so they’re easier to shoot, and nobody knows it’s happening.
Sure, if you’re dealing with TV assassins using action movie physics. Those Redneck Ninja Death Squads are elite operators.
No witnesses, no investigations, no prosecutions.
“What do we have here, Sergeant?”
“Well, Detective, we’ve got a body with multiple gunshot wounds, there’s shell casings over there, we’ve got eye witnesses, security camera footage from the surrounding buildings, cell phone footage from the bystanders, and a bunch of other pieces of forensic evidence… But nobody actually HEARD the gunshots due to the whopping 28 decibels of reduction. So we’ve got no case.”
“Okay, cool. I’m just going to call it a day. Praise Trump.”
Enabling careless irresponsible hunters (the kind who shoot people “by accident” without being noticed.
Following that logic we should take the mufflers off of cars so that drunk drivers don’t get away.
Plus, I like how she puts by accident in quotes, because you know how it is out here in red state flyover country, with us constantly getting away with outlandish murders and nobody ever notices. All I have to do is tell my local sheriff, “aw shucks, I totally thought he was a cow” and we all have a good laugh.
Enabling assassins and terrorists, who shoot people on purpose for political or personal ends.
Yes. Because even though there are millions of suppressors already in circulation, and anybody with some basic mechanical knowledge can improvise one, a professional hit man never would have thought of using a suppressed weapon before now. Sure, we’ve got drug cartels who manufactured their own submarines, but that $200 tax is just too hefty. And I can just imagine all those terrorists who’ve been thwarted by the NFA. “Oh no! I have not done the proper tax paperwork on my silencer! Abort the mission!” They must be from those same terrorist groups who obey Gun Free Zone signs.
Because seriously, people have been hunting with noisy rifles and shotguns a long time and seem to be able to get along quite well by sticking those earplugs or headgear on before they actually shoot.
This is stupid because it makes a few shockingly ignorant assumptions. Hunters don’t walk around wearing plugs, because they are annoying, and make it hard to hear what’s going on around you. Even electronic amplification muffs start to suck pretty fast when you’re doing anything other than actively shooting (and your ears get hot). So most hunters don’t wear earpro while hunting. When they see a deer, they don’t suddenly stop and pull out their plugs. Like hang on a minute Bambi, I’ll be right with you. Hell no. They take the fucking shot.
And once again, boom. Permanent and cumulative hearing damage.
People in this country are not going hungry because they can’t kill enough deer or rabbits or quail or elk to survive.
What a derpy straw man. I’m deaf, not hungry.
And game is spotted visually more often than heard (migratory waterfowl perhaps excepted.)
Moon has obviously never been hunting. And if I’m wrong and she has, I’m guessing she was remarkably bad at it.
What a stupid thought. Like the ONLY possible thing a hunter would need his hearing for is spotting animals, and not all of that normal hearing stuff we use our ears for every single day, like hearing somebody calling for help, or somebody shouting a warning about that bear that’s about to eat you, or the most likely danger, that dumb ass mountain biker flying down a trail about to run into you. Or shit, Elizabeth, maybe I just want to listen to the birds sing or the wind whistle through the trees and that’s none of your fucking business.
No, guys, this is not reasonable.
Nope. It’s perfectly reasonable. I can’t help it if you are emotional and terribly ignorant about the topic. (Originally I was going to be polite, but when she got to the part about right wing death squads murdering with impunity, I said fuck it, let’s go)
This is stupid and serves only to enrich the firearms industry which is already rich enough to pay a huge amount lobbying you. They’re making a profit already.
I’ve talked about the myth of the ultra-powerful gun lobby on here before, but it’s crap. The gun industry lobby is comparatively tiny. The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) is nothing compared to any of the big industry or union lobbying machines. The NRA is big, but its dues are paid by regular people. Regular people like not being deaf.
The part about enriching the firearms industry is exactly ass backwards. Last year suppressor sales were up big time. Then this year when congress started talking about the Hearing Protection Act, suppressor sales cratered. Why? Because all of their customers thought if that there might be a chance they could buy the same thing without paying an additional tax and waiting a year, why buy now? So they crossed their fingers and waited.
Customers want cans, but they hate the NFA so much, that if there is any chance they don’t have to get a government proctologic exam, they’ll hold off. So until the HPA passes/fails, it’s actually hurting the industry.
I know of a couple different suppressor manufacturers who have had to lay off workers since rumors about the HPA started up. Some of the layoffs have been huge. They need congress to either act or not, because right now the wait is killing their business.
Also, if it passes, if you remove the NFA requirements then it becomes a whole lot easier for more manufacturers to get into the suppressor business. Which would increase the existing manufacturers’ competition. Right it requires an SOT7 to make a can, which is another specialized hoop to jump through. So I don’t know what the hell she thinks they’re lobbying for, starving their business, until they can add more suppliers to compete against? Brilliant.
Let this alone.
You’re talking about bullshit like right wing death squads murdering people with impunity right now, but your side keeps getting this stuff embarrassingly wrong. You were wrong about “assault weapons”. You guys ranted about Uzis in the streets, yet the ban went away and nothing changed. You were wrong about concealed carry. You predicted wild west shoot outs over every parking space, but now its super common in most states and we’re fine. You’ve been wrong about gun free zones. They’re shit and killers love them. You’ve been wrong about every fucking thing. But you guys keep on lecturing us, aggressively certain that this time your doom and gloom will come true.
But it won’t, because it’s stupid.
Let me break down why moving suppressors from the NFA won’t result in a sudden upswing of right wing death squads creeping through your windows at night in their confederate flag ninja pajamas and MAGA hats.
We already have lots and lots of silencers.
That’s not all guns. That’s just NFA items. Regular firearms transfers are way, way bigger. Here are the stats from the BATF. https://www.atf.gov/resource-center/data-statistics
NFA items include legal machine guns (yes, those exist too!), short barreled rifles, short barreled shotguns, and suppressors. I couldn’t tell you how many of that are of each kind, but based upon my own time selling this stuff, suppressors are a big honking chunk.
There were 2.5 million NFA transfers last year alone. A ton of those were for suppressors. We’ve been making these things forever, and good ones don’t really wear out. But no right wing death squads have been murdering with impunity. Go figure. These right wing death squads must be constrained by something other than a supply of suppressors, oh, like maybe THEY ARE FUCKING IMAGINARY.
I could write a post in favor of a border wall because it would keep out the Loch Ness Monster and it would be about as realistic as Moon’s post. Because fuck you, Nessie. I’ve got my eye on you.
But wait, there’s more. Let’s suppose that our country has fractured to the point that we now have roving Redneck Kill Teams picking off caring liberals (why? Maybe they’re mad liberals made it so their poor hunting dogs are all deaf). So we’ve got this massive break down of law and order to the point murder is unremarkable, who gives a shit about the NFA? What’s to keep Bubba from going to Home Depot and putting together a functional suppressor out of some pipe and tubing? Hell, we can make these things out of oil filters. It ain’t rocket science.
Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, all those millions of transfers weren’t conducted by elite TV hit men, they were purchased by regular guys like me who are trying to protect what hearing we have left.
Excuse me, your highness, but if it pleases the crown, I would like to have the ability to teach my children to use firearms safely, in such a manner that they don’t end up hearing perpetual lawn sprinkler noises for the rest of their lives.
People like me, who have a clue about this topic, think it is dumb that sticking a pipe on the end of a gun is a felony. People like Moon are worried that if people were free to put pipes on the end of their guns, it will somehow lead to roving death squads and a complete breakdown of law and order. But they said the same thing about CCW and the AWB, so I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Suppressors are great, but they’re basically just another tool, and they’ve got their pros and cons like any other tool. I would encourage anybody who isn’t familiar with them to find their local range that offers NFA rentals, and try one out. Trust me, it’ll be a whole lot more educational than watching hit men on TV.