The Only Thing A Silencer Can’t Quiet Is An Activist.

Mad Mike Posted this. In his post he takes yet another lib to task about gun control, specifically silencers.

He was talking about this op ed in the Washington Post.

Mike’s take was that the writer willfully ignorant.  The ignorance is obvious, the willful part is up for question.  Though in these days it almost difficult to be ignorant for very long.  Consider that research on gun suppressors took me approximately ten minutes and two Google searches. One would assume that a PHD in Political Science and author would know how to use basic research tools.  Instead he just repeated the same old tropes, Hollywood physics and myths that have surrounded silencers since movies and mystery writers first discovered them, probably right from the time when silencers came on the market.

There are lot a myths about silencers or suppressors. Mythbusters actually did at least one episode about them.

After all it makes great theatre to have your villain pull out his gun and screw on the suppressor.  It tells an audience that the character is really serious about his villainy, that he’s taking extra measures to make sure that he succeeds in his nefarious schemes. The gun just looks more cool with a can in front  It adds drama.

Some of that drama came from exaggerated advertising from Maxim.  Some of it came from overreacting police departments.  The rest came from mystery writers who never seemed to have fired a gun.  In the early 20th Century authors could get away with that.  Some of the dramatic myths persist today.

All sorts of stuff about supressors. Including yet more mythbusting.

Silencers came about because things got noisy. For most of the nineteenth Century things were generally quiet. There really wasn’t much to make a great deal of noise and what did was softer than what we expect today, or fairly infrequently, like a blasting charge.
With the advent of the automobile and smokeless powder that all changed. What had been a chuff was now a fast bang, harsh and loud. It was obvious that something needed to be done or cars at least would noise legislated off the road. so Hiram P. Maxim, son of the machine gun inventor set about developing a way to quiet automobile exhausts. Along the way he also saw that the same method would work on firearms. Here’s a Gun digest story that explains what happened.

The invention of silencers occurred in the first decade of the 20th century, patented by a fellow named Maxim. No, not the machine-gun Maxim, but his son. Hiram Percy Maxim was not one to go slowly. Even at a time when precocious young men could attend college at an early age, he not only attended MIT early, but graduated early. He patented his first firearms silencer in 1909. We have to be specific, because the Maxim Silent Firearms Company later changed its name and pretty much only made mufflers for internal combustion engines.

Which, when I found out about it, allowed me to connect a few dots. OK, let’s look at the first decade of the 20th century, firearms-wise and other inventions as well. With Roosevelt in office, we’ve now had about a generation of shooters who are familiar with smokeless powder. And it is noisier than black powder. While no one has thought to actually invent hearing protection (at least, not that I’ve been able to find) they had to have noticed that these new cartridges, and smokeless powder, made your ears ring more than grand-dad’s old black powder rifle.

But what was really making everyone cranky were these newfangled horseless carriages. Not to pick on them, but we’ve all been standing on the corner when a Harley goes by, right? Noisy? You betcha. OK, imagine an early automobile, granted not with the horsepower of a Harley, but completely un-muffled. Even your lawnmower has a muffler. Early automobiles got a reputation for scaring horses, disturbing the peace, making a racket, and generally being unpleasant. And deservedly so. Early autos weren’t all that powerful; it took time to get even the most powerful engines up out of the teens as far as horsepower was concerned. But un-muffled, your average city street corner in 1905-1910 sounded like the parking lot of a Harley dealership. As a comparison, a Harley motor can develop on the order of 65-70 horsepower.

Cadillac won the Dewar Trophy in 1914, with a racing car whose engine developed a thundering 40 to 50 horsepower (records vary). Your average automobile in 1914 probably had half that at its disposal. But by 1914, there would have been thousands on city streets. Noisy? Like you can’t imagine, in this era of hybrids and electric cars.

Maxim designed mufflers to tame engine noise. And, since each cylinder combustion was a separate noise event, doing the same to firearms was easy. After all, even an early engine ran at a higher rpm than one of his father’s machine guns, right? If he could tame the noise of a 1,000 rpm engine (when you add in the firing of all the cylinders, and not consider just the rotation of the crankshaft) then a single gunshot was a piece of cake.

I’ve seen early magazine ads for silencers, showing properly dressed gentlemen plinking in their parlors, not even waking up the sleeping dog. If you wanted to buy a silencer back then, you simply sent a check or other funds to the Maxim Company and they mailed you a silencer. (You could probably have simply enclosed cash, since the basic ones were maybe twenty dollars.) Well, they mailed you one if you lived in a rational place. New York City had passed the Sullivan Act in 1911, controlling the purchase of firearms. Meant to keep those unruly southern-European immigrants from getting their hands on guns, I’d be surprised if it didn’t address silencers sooner or later, probably sooner.

If you ordered a Maxim silencer, it would come by way of the U.S. Postal Service. Well, back before the Depression, anyway.
If you ordered a Maxim silencer, it would come by way of the U.S. Postal Service. Well, back before the Depression, anyway.

I can’t say I’ve had a chance to look at a large number of Maxim suppressors, but I’m not sure anyone alive can say that, with the possible exception of Kevin Brittingham. They were not exactly common when they were new, and time has taken its toll. That, and stupid legislation. But the ones I have seen had some characteristics that jumped out at me. For one, they are all small. I mean, a Maxim silencer meant for use on an ’03 Springfield, in .30-06, is not much bigger than what we now make for a .22LR. He clearly didn’t believe in making them any larger than he had to, or else the end-users were so happy to have something this glorious, it didn’t occur to them to ask, “Can you make it quieter still?”

Second, I have only ever seen a direct-thread mount on a Maxim silencer. I wouldn’t be surprised to find he had done some work to make a quick-connect system of some kind, but the only ones I’ve ever seen were direct-thread. This is solid, simple, easy to understand, and something any competent gunsmith of the time could have managed. Well, a competent gunsmith with a lathe big enough to hold the rifle barrel, perhaps. Now, don’t quote me on that, because as much as I’ve seen, I haven’t seen a lot of Maxim suppressors. Heck, I’m not sure anyone alive has seen a lot of them, they are rare.

Last, his designs were all offset. That is, the bullet path was not down the center of the tube, but traveled along a path above the centerline of the tube. This meant the silencer would not obscure the sights. Interesting, and a reminder that back then, iron sights were the only sights.

Here’s still more from war is boring.

Maxim began his work in 1906, experimenting with different designs theoretically capable of moderating sound. He tried valves, vents and bypass devices, and came to believe that the propellant gases leaving a firearm’s muzzle could be whirled to create a vortex, thereby slowing them sufficiently to prevent them making noise as they left the muzzle.

Photo via ‘Small Arms Review’

Maxim’s first experimental silencer, pictured at left, used an offset snailshell-shaped chamber and valve to trap and swirl the muzzle gases in an effort to slow their travel. Maxim’s results with this design were encouraging. He continued to develop the idea of swirling the gases and, in June 1908, filed his patent for an “improvement in Silent Firearms.”

Patented in March 1909, this design used a series of curved vanes or blades to create a series of miniature vortices that captured and slowed the muzzle gases.

Maxim did not produce the Model 1909 silencer in great numbers. Its main flaw — the vortices caused the suppressor to quickly heat up. The curved internal vanes also proved expensive to manufacture. Still, the Model 1909 could reduce a .22LR pistol’s report by up to 30 decibels.

In October and November 1908, Maxim filled two more patents to protect an improvement on his earlier design. This new design became the Model 1910, which still relied on Maxim’s gas-vortex theory but simplified the vane arrangement.

Maxim’s March 1909 patent

The Model 1910 also moved away from the centrally-aligned internal channel and instead used an offset, or eccentric, design. This had the added benefit of not obstructing the weapon’s sights. The majority of rifles of the day did not have threaded barrels, so Maxim developed a coupling device that the shooter placed over the muzzle.

One of the main drawbacks of the Model 1910 was that it was nearly impossible to disassemble for cleaning. Instead, Maxim recommended that the user run hot water through the silencer’s channel. A Maxim sales brochure stated that it would take 30 minutes to clean the silencer this way.

The Maxim Model 1910 proved commercially successful. Maxim’s company offered it in a number of calibers ranging from .22 up to .45. Still, the thinner Model 1910 was less effective than the earlier 1909 was and, when fitted to a .22LR pistol, it reduced the weapon’s report by only 25 decibels.

Maxim’s book Experiences with the Maxim Silencer compiled letters from sportsmen and hunters who had used his silencer. In the book’s foreword, Maxim explained that he had developed his system in order to “meet my personal desire to enjoy target practice without creating a disturbance. I have always loved to shoot, but I never thoroughly enjoyed it when I knew the noise was annoying other people.”

Maxim fires a Benét–Mercié M1909 Machine Rifle fitted with his own suppressor design. Photo via ‘Small Arms Review’

The Maxim Silencer Company sold the silencers via mail-order, shipping them in cardboard tubes. A .22-calibre silencer cost $5, while larger-caliber silencers cost $7. Maxim’s silencers were expensive when adjusted for inflation. Today these prices equate to approximately $120 and $165, respectively.

In 1912, with commercial growth slow, Maxim turned his attention to the military market. In 1909, the U.S. Army Ordnance Corps had tested Maxim’s first silencer. Col. S.E. Blunt, commander of the Springfield Armory, reported that the silencer eliminated approximately 66 percent of a gun’s noise and 67 percent of its recoil.

Encouraged by this early military interest, Maxim began designing a silencer that could moderate the report of a Springfield M1903 rifle. He believed that the growing number of American men joining the military from cities — men who lacked experience with shooting — were struggling to master the .30–06 M1903 because of its loud report and recoil. Maxim felt that a silencer would prevent recruits being intimidated by their own rifles.

The Maxim Silencer Company developed the Model 1912 and subsequently the further-improved Model 15, which Maxim christened the “Government Silencer.” Maxim also developed a larger silencer suitable for suppressing a Benét–Mercié M1909 Machine Rifle.

The Army tested Maxim’s military silencers alongside those of Robert A. Moore in 1912. The Springfield Armory’s July 1912 report found that the Moore silencer was more accurate and had a better attachment system.

The Maxim silencer, however, was more durable and could withstand more prolonged rapid-fire. Army Ordnance recommended the purchase of 100 of both silencers for field trials, with two silencers being issued per company for use by sharpshooters.

This was not the large contract that Maxim had hoped for. The U.S. military deployed silencers in small numbers during the 1916 expedition against Pancho Villa and later when the American Expeditionary Force deployed to France in 1917.

While these silenced rifles could not prevent the supersonic crack that occurred downrange, they were able to mitigate muzzle flash and moderate the rifle’s report. As early as, 1917 the Army changed its mind and ordered another 9,100 Maxim suppressors. It’s unclear how many Maxim managed to deliver before the war ended.

After the war in 1920, the Army made the suppressed rifles available to the public through the Civilian Marksmanship Program. Others trickled down to the National Guard. The Army declared any leftover suppressed weapons obsolete in March 1925.

Here’s a Maxim ad.

Ian at Forgotten Weapons has page and video about the Maxim silencer.

I haven’t been able to find a video of a Maxim silencer on a gun being fired.  I suspect that they quieted the guns they were attached to, but not as much as people believed. One thing is that most of them were made for .22LR and other small cartridges that are pretty quiet anyway.   I think that Maxim was more interested in taking advantage of the metal forming skills of central Connecticut to keep cost down than he was with scientifically making the device as quiet as possible.

In the long run that didn’t matter as the gangster hysteria of the 1930’s and the antigun sentiment that went with it meant that suppressors were included in the things affected by the National Firearms Act and taxed out of existence.  It would take a war to bring in another player who really wanted very quiet guns indeed.

During much of WW2 Great Britain was in the position of having to wage a poor man’s war.  Britain simply did not have the resources to fight Nazi Germany and the resource of most of Europe. So the British created and deployed small units to hit high value targets.  these were the commandos and the Special Operations Executive.  Both of these small unit forces relied on surprise and initiative to achieve their objectives.  For these kind of forces and the resistance and partisan forces they worked with, a silent weapon that could be used to remove sentries and guards was a valuable asset.  So the SOE’s technical branch set out to develop some.
The first was the Welrod pistol. The Welrod was designed to be as quiet as possible and listening to the pistol fired in the audio in the Timelapse site linked below it’s about as loud as heavy sneeze. The downside? In order to get a pistol that quiet they had to use a pocket pistol round in pistol that unlike the model 1903 that typically chambered the .32 ACP the Welrod was much harder to conceal and bolt action to boot.

The second was the DeLisle carbine.  The Delisle was based on the standard Lee Enfield bolt action  rechambered for .45 ACP cartridges. The .45 ACP was chosen because the cartridge was readily available and the most powerful subsonic round.  The DeLisle was designed to enable special forces to remove sentries as quietly as possible and as the video below shows, it is very quiet indeed.

The problem is being quiet comes at significant tactical and mechanical costs.  In order to get the gas discharge to the point where it no longer makes significant noise is not easy.  Consider what this German requirement did to a poor innocent Smith and Wesson revolver.  The designers turned a sturdy revolver into a big bulky and hard to shoot monstrosity that looks like it belongs in a bad movie. Silence comes at a cost.

Now what about the argument that removing the ban will allow criminals and other bad elements access to silencers.  Well it’s not as it they are especially hard to make these days. Here’s some videos.

Here’s John Saunders of NYCCNC’s video of making a silencer.

Even easier, go down to the hardware store, pick up a tap and drill in the size of the thread that’s on the end of the barrel of your gun, a pipe nipple with a 5/8-24 thread for a fitting on it, and an oil filter.  A little work with tools and there’s your suppressor. Anybody with a half decent shop could throw it together in about half an hour. Of course then you have an oil filter on the end of your gun with all the weight and balance thrown to hell, but it’s not as noisy. Tennessee redneck engineering, it’s not pretty, but it works.


Now to the center of Mr. Spitzer’s argument that continuing the suppressor tax makes things safer and reduces crime because criminals don’t use guns because they are loud.  I can speak to that from personal experience.  Criminals do not care how loud a gun is.  They don’t need to. The typical tactical situation in a crime is far different than that in a military situation.  The criminal knows that more than likely he will not be facing alert and heavily armed opponents that are likely to respond immediately to a gun shot.  Back a long time ago I had an apartment in a not so nice neighborhood.  One night there was a drug hit in the complex.  The people doing the hit drove up, unloaded the full magazines of what were probably 9mm semiautomatic pistols into the victim, turned around and drove off.  I saw the tail end of it and I am sure that everybody in the complex heard the shots.  But it was 1:00 am and by the time anybody could respond and long before the police showed up the killers were long gone. Surprise and initiative are far better tactical needs for a criminal than silence.

What the current tax to effective ban, though that’s being inflated into irrelevance does is make training and practice with firearms harder and noisier than it has to be. Suppressors make training and practice easier because they lower the amount of damage that a gun does to the hearing.  The only people really affected by the ban on suppressors are law enforcement who actually need them, because they frequently have to discharge firearms inside and maintain skills through constant practice on the range.

All the activists are doing is increasing the health costs to law enforcement and making practice for everybody an unnecessarily painful experience.  All for the drama of having a higher moral authority and the cause of  gun control.  The activist doesn’t care about facts, reason or reality.  All they are concerned with is the drama and making noise.  Unfortunately there’s no suppressor against that noise. But why should we listen?

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