Suppressors, often referred to erroneously as silencers, are medium-sized tubes filled with sound-dissipating material that are screwed onto the end of the barrel of a firearm, which aids in sound reduction.
The term silencer is something of a misnomer, as any suppressor will not actually silence the report of a gunshot; it will merely reduce the sound signature of a gunshot and eliminate the muzzle flash succeeding it. The firearm industry prefers the more technically correct term suppressor. However, the first suppressor was patented as a silencer, and the U.S. government (namely, the BATF) still refers to the accessory as a silencer in its laws and paperwork.
The suppressor was invented in the early 20th century by Hiram Maxim, and was patented as the Silencer. The design for firearm usage was developed alongside automobile mufflers, due to the many techniques used to quiet a firearm report was also effective in muffling an automobile. Many found use with undercover agencies throughout WWII. The suppressor remains synonymous with undercover operations where discretion is needed.
When the powder in a cartridge is ignited, it creates hot gases which force the bullet out of the barrel. The large volume of sound and flash that is heard and seen when a round is fired is the high-pressure gas being released from the bore as a result of the ignition of the powder. The suppressor has more space to occupy which allows the gases to expand and cool inside of it. Since less gas is exiting the barrel, the audible sound, as well as the visible flash, is reduced.
The actual suppressor only reduces the sound of the ignition by about 50%, on average. The weight of a suppressor can also reduce the recoil; however, like any tool placed on a firearm, it can unbalance the weight, which may lead to cycling issues on recoil-operated firearms, particularly with weaker ammunition. Some suppressed handguns are modified to not cycle their slides, either by internal modification or an external slide lock. This is utilized either due to the aforementioned use of weaker ammunition (subsonic loadings) or to prevent the round ejecting, causing the slide to make further noise and the expelled cartridge to possibly make noise when ejected and hitting the ground.
Suppressors are commonly used with special subsonic ammunition. Most bullets and cartridge loadings cause the bullet to exit the muzzle and travel with supersonic (faster than the speed of sound: commonly 1140 ft/s) speed. This results in the common "crack" heard when a gun is discharged. Subsonic ammunition uses a different formula than typical ammunition: generally, subsonic cartridges are loaded with less propellant and a heavier grain bullet, to make up for lost energy keeping the bullet subsonic. When used in conjunction with silencers, subsonic ammunition can provide for even more noise suppression. However, such rounds are notably less effective over longer ranges. Many effective subsonic cartridges are in use today, such as the Russian-made 9x39mm cartridge.
Suppressors can either be external or integral. Most suppressors are external; that is, they are attached to a firearm via internal threads and screw onto a threaded barrel or are pinned onto a barrel. Some specialty firearms include an integral suppressor, where the suppressor makes up most of the actual barrel and is commonly attached permanently. Easily the most ubiquitous example of an integral silencer is the one attached to the MP5SD. The VSS "Vintorez" is a Russian specialty sniper rifle with both an integral suppressor and subsonic (9x39mm) ammunition.
Portrayal in Popular CultureEdit
Often misunderstood, silencers are always thought as "the James Bond weapon of choice." Hollywood shows gun silencers in multiple movies such as The Boondock Saints, the James Bond movies, No Country for Old Men, Dirty Harry, Con Air, and Die Hard. These are less like the actual silencer sound and more the "sharp raindrop" sound, or in No Country for Old Men, a laser sound.
Suppressors remain useful today both in combat and practical applications. Suppressors are still used by specialized agenices, such as special operations and those in espionage. Snipers utilize suppressors to further disguise their location when firing. Suppressors also find use in close quarters combat to muffle gunshots inside closed areas, both as a tactical measure and to reduce otherwise hearing-dangerous gunshots.
Suppressors are also popular with hunters. Many hunters attach suppressors to their rifles for hearing safety, as the report of a rifle is generally dangerous to unprotected ears. Varmint hunters utilize suppressors alongside smaller-caliber guns (usually .22LR) to hunt smaller game where the sound of a gunshot would be disturbing to others (such as in city limits or rural areas where it is allowed). Suppressors can also add weight to the rifle, thus reducing recoil and changing center of gravity. Much like in the battlefield, animals can be confused by the location of a shot fired through a suppressor.
The legalities of possessing a suppressor varies depending on the country and laws regarding suppressors in civilian use.
Contrary to popular belief, possession of a suppressor in the United States is not completely illegal; rather, it is highly regulated via a tax stamp (usually around $200 USD) and a thorough background check conducted by the BATF. However, it is illegal to possess in 12 states and the District of Columbia.