Ammo & Gear Reviews

CCW Weekend: How To Use Suppressors In Case The Hearing Protection Act Passes

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By Sam Hoober, Alien Gear Holsters

One of the first pieces of national legislation related to guns and gun rights that may cross our new president’s desk is the Hearing Protection Act, which would rescind the portions of the National Firearms Act dealing with suppressors. Suppressors, or silencers, currently require federal permission to buy, in the guise of a background check and ATF stamp authorizing the person making the purchase.

There’s a decent chance the Hearing Protection Act will become law, which may lead more people to using suppressors. Unlike what alarmists and gun control advocates want you to believe, the fact is that suppressors are actually a valuable piece of kit.

Using one couldn’t be simpler: they attach to the barrel of a firearm. However, to use one requires a compatible barrel be installed. Most semi-automatic pistols can easily be equipped with a threaded barrel. There are a number of third-party suppliers that specialize in threaded barrels for suppressor use, though quite a few are available through the OEM.

After it’s attached, start shooting. It’s that simple.

Word of warning, though – use of a threaded barrel will make concealed carry more difficult. Carrying a pistol and attached suppressor in a concealed carry holster is all but impossible, and not every holster maker can accommodate a pistol with a threaded barrel. Additionally, the extended barrel may interfere with your draw stroke, so if you’re going to carry a pistol with a threaded barrel that will occasionally have a suppressor attached to it, put in some practice to ensure a smooth draw.

However, a number of companies make holsters for threaded barrel pistols. Therefore, if you’re going to use a suppressor on your carry gun, you may want to invest in a holster that will work with it.

That said, the cardinal benefit of using a suppressor is reduced noise, though the effect in this regard is not as dramatic as some would have you believe. Calling these devices “silencers” is a misnomer, as a gunshot is hardly silenced when using one. (Granted, the term has been used since they were invented, so the word is here to stay.) The typical gunshot is about 160 decibels (dB), which is about 40 dB louder than the noise level standing on the runway roughly 100 yards away from a 747 taking off.

Hearing damage occurs instantaneously at 140 dB, which is why it’s a good idea to always wear ear protection. Prolonged exposure to noise levels of 120 dB or more will permanently damage hearing in short order as well, so getting under 140 dB on a meter doesn’t mean you have a free pass.

The degree of attenuation provided by a suppressor varies by design. Some, therefore, work better than others. Generally, they shave 20 to 30 dB off the sound level generated by a gunshot, meaning each shot fired still generates 130 to 140 dB in most cases, still sufficient to cause immediate hearing damage.

Subsonic ammunition is recommended for use in suppressed firearms, as this attenuates noise even further – usually another 10 to 20 dB, though it can be more in some cases. (It depends on the subsonic ammunition in question, the gun it’s being used in, etc.) The term “subsonic” might imply a silent round, but they are far from it; subsonic rounds merely travel at less than the speed of sound, which is 1126 feet per second.

You might wonder at this point if a good deal of handgun ammunition is actually subsonic, since a LOT of loads out there travel at speeds less than 1126 ft/s., including the bulk of .45 ACP rounds. You would be spot on – so you might be getting an idea at this point just how much difference subsonic ammunition makes. (Not much in many cases.) However, when used in conjunction with a suppressor, total noise level from a gunshot can approach 120 dB or less depending on the precise pistol, ammunition and suppressor employed.

Now, if you can suppress gunshot noise to 120 or fewer dB, this means you can shoot a lot more without damaging hearing. You should still wear ear protection (prolonged exposure still produces hearing damage) but use of both subsonic ammo and a suppressor will help a great deal in this respect.

Additional benefits of suppressors include increased accuracy (essentially, it’s a longer barrel) and, for the civilian, being very “tacticool.” If you live in an area where you can shoot outside your home, it won’t bug the neighbors much or scare off local wildlife.

In the latter respect, suppressors are actually ideal for hunters. A few countries in Europe (mostly Scandinavian countries) have recognized this and are somewhat permissive regarding hunting with suppressors. A license is usually required, however.

The opposition, of course, makes some wild claims about suppressors. First is that suppressors/silencers are going to be used in crimes. This is patently false; improvised silencers have been found all over the world (even here in the US) so the lack of legal access has hardly impeded criminal use. According to Reason, a study that appeared in the “Western Criminology Review” found just two homicides committed between 1995 and 2005 that involved a suppressor, and 8 instances of one being used in commission of a crime but wasn’t used to hurt anyone.

In other words, criminals don’t use them, or are using improvised suppressors anyway.

Another more recent opposition to suppressor usage is that the gunshots won’t register with ShotSpotter, a gunfire-spotting program that picks up on gunshots and is able to geolocate the source by use of deployed microphones over an area. A few large cities employ ShotSpotter and similar programs; Chicago, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and Washington, D.C. are some of the leading examples. There are definitely examples of GSW victims being found by means of these systems, and some arrests following as a result, but the overall efficacy of these systems is questionable.

So, if you’re waiting for the Hearing Protection Act to go through, that’s pretty much what you need to know about suppressors.

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Sam Hoober is Contributing Editor for AlienGearHolsters.com, a subsidiary of Hayden, ID, based Tedder Industries, where he writes about gun accessories, gun safety, open and concealed carry tips. Click here to visit aliengearholsters.com.