Every one with a television knows that a silencer is a device attached to the barrel of a firearm which reduces the amount of noise and visible muzzle flash generated by firing.

These Silencers are typically constructed of a metal cylinder with internal baffles to reduce the sound by capturing and slowing the escaping gases.

Like most things, suppressors, as they are more correctly know, are more complicated that that. Since 1934, silencers, as they are called in the National Firearms Act (NFA) are regulated. There is pending legislation, the Hearing Protection Act (HPA) which seeks to remove silencers from the NFA to mitigate the costs of hearing loss.  US Special Operations Command has provided their forces with suppressors and the Marines are experimenting with suppressing all of their weapons.

Photo courtesy of US Marine Corps
Photo courtesy of US Marine Corps


This what the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives says about the NFA:

The NFA was originally enacted in 1934. Similar to the current NFA, the original Act imposed a tax on the making and transfer of firearms defined by the Act, as well as a special (occupational) tax on persons and entities engaged in the business of importing, manufacturing, and dealing in NFA firearms. The law also required the registration of all NFA firearms with the Secretary of the Treasury. Firearms subject to the 1934 Act included shotguns and rifles having barrels less than 18 inches in length, certain firearms described as “any other weapons,” machine guns, and firearm mufflers and silencers.

While the NFA was enacted by Congress as an exercise of its authority to tax, the NFA had an underlying purpose unrelated to revenue collection. As the legislative history of the law discloses, its underlying purpose was to curtail, if not prohibit, transactions in NFA firearms. Congress found these firearms to pose a significant crime problem because of their frequent use in crime, particularly the gangland crimes of that era such as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. The $200 making and transfer taxes on most NFA firearms were considered quite severe and adequate to carry out Congress’ purpose to discourage or eliminate transactions in these firearms. The $200 tax has not changed since 1934.

This law has strangled suppressor development.

Photo courtesy of USAF
Photo courtesy of USAF
The Colt XM-177 Commando was developed in 1966 in response to the US military’s desire for a shorter M16.  The Commando had an innovative device Colt called a moderator to allow the rifle to operate reliable with a 10-inch barrel. The 4.2 moderator provides back pressure to the gas system, reduces flash signature greatly and sound signature slightly, making the Commando sound like a longer barreled M16A1.

Although it has no internal baffles and does not completely reduce the sound signature to subsonic levels, because it alters the sound level of the weapon, the US Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives has declared this innocent muzzle device to be a sound suppressor and regulates its civilian purchase in the United States.

Because of this arbitrary bureaucratic decision produced by a vague and illogical law, the outstanding and innovative XM-177E2 could not be sold to civilians nor exported.  Colt stopped production and development of the moderator.