Scary Cars? Yes, Just Like Those Scary Guns!

Steam-powered street vehicles first appeared in noticeable numbers in England in the 1830s. They were eventually driven out of common use by legislation backed by their competitors and “self-propelled carriages” did not reappear until the late 1890s. At the time, gasoline and alcohol powered cars were not the obvious choice over the steam and electric competitors. While they had many advantages, they also suffered from a great disadvantage — the noise of un-muffled engines.

The requirement for cars to stop upon encountering horses was based in part on the noise emitted and the possibility of it spooking the animals. The first US patent for a muffler was filed in 1897, and the classic Maxim Silencer mufflers were invented in 1902. At the time, the process of obtaining a muffler for a firearm involved sending funds to the manufacturer and receiving a tube containing the muffler by mail. Most of the early mufflers were eccentric, with the bulk of the device hanging below the bore line to enable the use of stock sights.

Cars and guns should be quiet
Cars and guns should be quiet

Part of this history may be traced through the different terms used to describe sound suppressors. “”Silencer” was an American brand name that became generic, much like “Xerox” and “Kleenex””. In the UK, they are called “sound moderators”, while car mufflers are sometimes called “silencers”. The reduction of engine noise was an obvious contributor to the eventual success of gas-powered modern cars, with almost no one seriously claiming any evil intent in reducing the noise pollution from vehicles. I doubt that many people would want to wear aviation-style headsets just to drive to the grocery store. If we had an anti-car lobby that was as vicious as the anti-gun lobby, we’d hear claims like “mufflers would allow hit and run drivers to sneak up on pedestrians”, much like they claim that mufflers on firearms are only for murder and poaching.

Gun mufflers differ from car mufflers in minor details. They are less efficient because of the requirement for a straight path being open for the bullet. Like car mufflers, sound suppressors on guns add weight and trap heat. To compensate, they reduce felt recoil and greatly diminish the muzzle flash. So a firearm with a muffler is significantly more pleasant to use than one without. For that reason, I try to use only quiet guns when introducing new shooters to the sport. That serves a secondary purpose of popularizing the concept with people new to gun rights. Just as familiarity with “horseless carriages” made them less scary and more accepted by the public, the same is true with firearms and sound suppressors. If you have the ability to popularize the concept among new shooters, please use every opportunity to do so.

Most people reading this will probably say: “I would if I could”. Some live in restrictive jurisdictions, others can’t afford the $200 tax and the inflated cost of the suppressor. We read phrases like “The silencers were incredibly good, expensively muffled so that, from a hundred feet away, the plane was inaudible in cruising flight” in reference to engines, but it’s been a long time since that was applied to cars in daily conversations. Car mufflers are commodities, not worthy of even a model name, while firearm mufflers are branded goods precisely because the barrier to possession is so steep. But the prices do not have to be so high. In countries where they are unregulated, sound suppressors are inexpensive. $30US gets you a basic .22 suppressor in New Zealand. Let’s work on making this a reality in the US as well.

About the Author:

Oleg Volk

Oleg Volk is a creative director working mainly in firearms advertising. A great fan of America and the right to bear arms, he uses his photography to support the right of every individual to self-determination and independence. To that end, he is also a big fan of firearms.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (7)

  1. Hello there are utilizing WordPress to your website program? Iam new to blog globe yet. Iam hoping to get began and hang up my own, personal. I additionally learned about Drupal is okay. Might find my own alternative…. Educational post, many thanks.

  2. I’m an expatriated American, living in New Zealand, and I will say to this post: Absolutely! New Zealand outdoors people understand the value of a good silencer and their love for them goes un-trampled by parliment here. Suppressors are safety devices in every respect: protecting hearing and preventing environmental and habitat damage. I was absolutely shocked when I first discovered this here, but it’s true. NZ is proof that they’re not so scary outside of the movies. 🙂 Silencing is not a crime.

  3. “Let’s work on making this a reality in the US as well.”

    Obviously writing our representatives will be needed eventually, but I suspect this needs some lobbing to get the ball rolling. In which case do you know of anyone in particular we should write to at the NRA or NSSF to get this to be a major legislative goal?

  4. It’s not just the $200 stamp, it’s the probulating, begging for permission, and the 6 month delay that raises my hackles. Not only that, but as much as I’d love to suppress some of my firearms, I then have to consider building some sort of trust so the BATFU doesn’t bust down my door, kill my dog, and then throw my wife in prison because she has ‘access’ to it.

    The problem isn’t that people don’t understand the logic behind the laws, it’s that the government has no desire to remove an easy way to increase its criminal count. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fight worth having, but the issue isn’t going to be just convincing people suppressors are not the assassination tool they think it is is only 1/100th of the issue. As someone who has worked in getting better gun laws passed, I can also tell you that elected officials tend to be immune to logic and have their ideas cemented well before you get in front of them.

    Basically, it’s a big uphill battle for us.

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