There's a lot of red tape involved, but using a suppressor at the range and afield makes a lot of sense.
While Hollywood often portrays suppressors as the tools of assassins and spies like James Bond, reality is pretty different. It's understandable if you're confused, as there's a lot of misinformation out there about suppressors.
Though sometimes known as gun silencers, even the best ones don't come anywhere close to completely silencing the report of a gun. Even so, suppressors can still be incredibly useful for hunters and shooters.
Here are five reasons why you should consider using a suppressor at the range and afield.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Centers for Disease Control, sound levels above 120 decibels can cause immediate and irreversible high-frequency hearing loss. Indeed, even exposure to sound levels above 85 decibels over a prolonged period of time can still cause permanent hearing damage.
Now consider that a gunshot (regardless of whether it's a .22LR, a .223 Remington or a .300 Winchester Magnum) produces sound levels in excess of 140 decibels. Typical hearing protection only has a noise reduction level of 20-30 decibels. So, even if you're wearing ear plugs or ear muffs, you're still exposed to noise levels in excess of what can cause permanent hearing loss while you're at the range.
Nobody wants to have to wear hearing aids down the road. So, what can you do about it?
Fortunately, a high-quality suppressor can reduce noise levels by 20-40 decibels, so they can really help in that regard.
True, even the suppressed sound of a gunshot is still loud enough to cause hearing damage, but quality ear protection can further reduce the decibel level of the gunshot by another 20-30 decibels. When used in conjunction with hearing protection, it's possible to shoot virtually any suppressed firearm for long periods of time without worrying about ever suffering hearing damage.
Being a Good Neighbor
As the population of the country grows, it's getting harder and harder to find places to shoot that are far enough away from where people live that firearm noise from the range doesn't bother the neighbors. Not surprisingly, there's a certain degree of tension between shooting ranges and people who live in close proximity to them.
These people aren't necessarily gun-control advocates, but they just don't appreciate how loud shooting ranges are. I don't blame them one bit. After all, everyone needs a little bit of peace and quiet.
If everyone used a suppressor, shooting ranges wouldn't be quite so noisy, and therefore wouldn't disturb neighbors as much.
Benefits for Hunting
It's legal to hunt with a suppressor in many different states. In addition to the aforementioned hearing benefits to the shooter, hunting with a suppressor also doesn't spook game as much as an unsuppressed gunshot. This causes less stress for the other animals in the area and it's more difficult for animals to identify the source of a suppressed gunshot.
For these reasons, hunting with a suppressor can make it easier to hunt heavily pressured animals, take a follow-up shot if you miss the first one, or take multiple animals out of a group (an AR-15 with a suppressor is a popular tool for hog eradication).
It's also really nice for hunting near populated areas.
Less Recoil and Muzzle Blast
While a muzzle brake can indeed reduce the amount of recoil from a given firearm, it dramatically increases muzzle blast, particularly for those standing off to the side.
On the other hand, mounting a suppressor reduces the amount of muzzle climb, recoil and muzzle blast felt by the shooter. Obviously, this makes any gun more pleasant to shoot and many people shoot suppressed firearms more accurately for this very reason. These same characteristics also make suppressed firearms a great choice for introducing those with less shooting experience to the shooting sports.
Hearing Protection Act
The National Firearms Act of 1934 mandates that American shooters purchase a $200 tax stamp, send in an application to the ATF and get permission from a local chief law enforcement officer before they can even purchase a sound suppressor. There's currently a very long backlog of applications with the ATF, so the process often takes several months to complete.
This has the effect of manipulating the market by artificially reducing the supply of suppressors available, therefore driving up the price. Interestingly enough, while it's more difficult to purchase firearms in Europe or Africa, it's also a much simpler process to purchase a suppressor in these areas. Indeed, it's very common for European and African hunters and shooters to use suppressed rifles.
However, gun rights organizations and certain members of Congress have proposed several different versions of a bill known as the Hearing Protection Act over the years that would remove suppressors from NFA regulation. If passed, this new law would allow gun owners to purchase them with a simple NICS background check, just like a firearm.
If the Hearing Protection Act eventually gets passed, we'll very likely see the price of suppressors significantly drop as they become easier to obtain in the United States.