There are all kinds of myths floating around out there. One that has permeated it’s way into everyday life is the mythos of a silencer. You can’t silence the report of a weapon. But, you can suppress the noise and flash. Don’t tell Hollywood this as it would ruin them.
Hollywood and its twisted fantasy about how firearms function would have you believe that a suppressed weapon, not a silenced weapon, makes a quiet little twhip sound when fired. You can liken this film making creation to that of a cat farting or sneezing.
Realistically, there is no way to truly silence a firearm. You can suppress some of the noise and some of the muzzle flash but never truly silence the weapon. A suppressor can only decrease some of the noise (decibels) and some of the sonic pressure (sonic boom of the bullet breaking the sound barrier) of the firearm when it discharges. H&K or Heckler and Koch, have several of their MP family of submachine guns that incorporate an integral suppressor. Some special models even have rubber ‘buffers’ that attempt to further quiet down the noise of the action cycling in an attempt to reduce the noise footprint when firing.
Can a revolver be suppressed?
According to Hollywood, it can. Those of us that live in the real world know that it can’t. However, there was one company that attempted to suppress a revolver and ended up with something that looks like it would be unwieldy to use and quite heavy. Short answer, no, not a feasible option.
But there was the old Nagant M1895, a ‘sealed’ revolver that was in use from 1895-1945 mainly in Russia. A very rare piece for sure and unlikely to be lying around or easily found in the aftermath of a Z-apoc.
A suppressor is a device that will wear out with repeated use. They are not designed for extended battlefield use and are considered ‘specialty’ devices used by Special Forces. The primary reason for their limited usage is the time, effort and cost to replace the inner ‘core’ of the suppressor as it is the part most readily worn out. Let’s try an example. For those of you who target shoot or hunt, I’m sure you’ve heard of ‘hot’ loads. These are shells packed with a little extra powder to give them a faster velocity and/or more knock down or kinetic energy impact. If one were to consistently use ‘hot’ loads in their firearm they could see excessive wear within the barrel and rifling. Taking that simple example and applying it to the daily use of a suppressor and you have a similar problem, wearing out the inner portion of the suppressor thereby making it less effective. As a suppressor is designed to reduce decibels of noise as in the report of a weapon being fired, the less effective it is when constantly used, therefore the less decibels of sound it reduces.
Most firearms that can use a suppressor need to have a threaded barrel. That means there are literal threads like what one would see similar to that found on a machine screw that the suppressor screws onto. In some cases, once a suppressor is attached, it increases the barrel weight of the handgun making the weapon barrel ‘heavy’. This can in some cases increase accuracy. This can also mean it eliminates some of the barrel ‘climb’ when firing. An example of this is the Colt 1911. The 1911 is chambered .45 ACP and when fired has a reported 2 foot vertical buck. That means that without, and sometimes with, a proper grip, the weapon jumps up making the second round fired off target and above the intended target. Some semi-automatic handguns can’t have a suppressor attached due to the mechanics of their action. Staying with the 1911, a popular handgun, to get a suppressor to work on the older models and maybe some of the new ones would take extensive reworking of the action. To simplify the working of a semi-auto, the trigger is pulled, the firing pin fires the bullet and the slide travels back to eject the spent round (shell casing) then travels forward to feed the next live round into the chamber. When the slide travels back, the barrel of the weapon ‘unlocks’ from the frame for a nanosecond which if a suppressor was attached would cause the barrel to not be aligned with the slide when it travels back forward. This could lead to a catastrophic weapon malfunction. This is true for most semi-autos on the market today.
There are several handguns on the market sold as the ‘tactical’ version which can mean several things. An extended, threaded barrel, a specialized trigger assembly, rails on the frame for mounting ‘tactical’ accessories or any number of after-market options that the manufacturer wants to tag with the label tactical.
For the average citizen to own a suppressor, in the states where they are not illegal, they need to pay a ‘tax stamp’ to the BATFE and submit to a thorough background check. While this may seem simple the process is quite long and arduous. However, once that is done, there is little the new owner of the suppressor can do once they wear out their new toy as there is not a large market for used suppressors.
Typically, ownership of a suppressor is restricted to the military and some police units.
As mentioned above, use of full powered or ‘hot’ loads can quickly reduce the effectiveness of your suppressor. What’s left to use then?
Subsonic ammunition is a specific type and normally, a caliber of ammunition manufactured to not break the sound barrier or create a sonic boom when used in conjunction with a suppressor. In some cases, the firearm using this type of ammunition will not be able to function normally. An example of this would be the early models of the M16. When used with a suppressor and subsonic ammunition, there wasn’t enough force to cycle the action thereby forcing the operator to manually cycle the action as in ejecting the spent round and feeding the next live one into the chamber. This was a less than effective method given that the use of a suppressor was to create stealth but the operator having to work the action manually created more noise thereby ruining any chance of his presence remaining undetected by hostiles.
H&K somewhat solved that problem with their MP5 family of submachine guns. Without going into all kinds of technical and engineering methods and designs, suffice it to say that the bolt and action functions differently than those of other weapons allowing the action to cycle normally when the use of a suppressor and subsonic ammunition is used.
Now that you know more about suppressing the report of a firearm, you can now sit back and relax knowing that this knowledge has now enlightened you to how movies and TV never get it right.