If the buzz from this year’s SHOT Show is any indication, it’s going to be a banner year for suppressor sales. Using them for decades, selling them for almost as long, I’d say it is about time customers started to come around to the silence, as the value of cans has been underrated for years.
Once relegated to the police world, black rifles or precision rifles, suppressors are becoming mainstream. It is a boon for the tactical industry, an advantage for consumers, and a solid money-making opportunity for retailers. Unfortunately, there has been so much misinformation out there that many dealers have shied away from the market.
But it’s not nearly as daunting to get set up as many would think, and once you get going selling suppressors, just a bit of training allows you to meet most customers’ needs and opens up a chance for more profits.
So, How Do I Get Set Up?
I’m constantly amazed by dealers telling me it is just “too much trouble” to sell suppressors, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Assuming suppressors are legal to possess in your state, for an FFL holder it amounts to completing a form and sending in either a $500 or $1,000 tax fee depending on your gross sales. Some states add to this, often substantially — but for most this is all there is.
The only recurring cost is a yearly renewal. Assuming your FFL is in good standing, your tax stamp arrives in a few weeks and you are done. It allows you to transfer and sell suppressors, short-barreled rifles and shotguns, AOWs (Any Other Weapons) and even machine guns (both transferable and post-1986). You are not limited in number to any of them other than post-ban machine guns, and your single tax stamp covers them all.
Depending on how you handle your bound book, you might want to add another one, or a separate accounting if you’re using software. It depends on your volume, but it’s just easier to keep the Class III items separate, and every one of my inspectors has recommended it.
Beyond that, it is a matter of completing the appropriate form given the transfer. Most dealers will use a Form 3 (dealer to dealer), Form 4 (dealer to individual or trust) and Form 5 (dealer to government agency). Unless you manufacture, that is it. Completing the forms takes minutes and can be done using a computer; it’s anything but daunting.
Dealer and government transfers are free, transfers to individuals, or from individuals to the dealer, have a $200 transfer tax. Individual transfers require the customer to acquire prints, pictures and a sign-off by the local law enforcement officer. Currently transfers to trusts avoid the prints, pictures and LEO signature.
The Benefits Of A Suppressor
Suppressors enhance the shooting experience and usability of a customer’s firearm. With the right can, a customer’s weapon will be better at its job, easier to use and more fun to shoot. However, suppressors aren’t magical mystical devices, nor are they for everyone. Knowing the difference ensures a good sale, a happy customer and a returning client.
There are some simple things to understand about suppressors, particularly with rifles, as that is where the difference is most noticeable.
Rifle silencers aren’t “silent.” They suppress sound by redirecting hot gasses leaving the barrel. How quiet they are depends on their design, construction and several other factors like barrel length, caliber, ammunition used, even atmospheric conditions. Not every suppressor is “ear safe,” regardless of company claims.
Supersonic ammunition still results in the “crack” of the bullet. It does not “slow down” the bullet, just the gasses. Subsonic rifle ammunition eliminates the crack, but even it is not totally silent. As a dealer, always encourage the use of hearing protection even with cans. Liability reasons should be obvious, but even with quiet suppressors, hearing protection just makes sense.
Suppressors on rifles diminish or all but eliminate the concussive effect (muzzle blast) — especially compared to muzzle brakes. It is fantastic for new shooters who tend to flinch from the boom.
What remains is directed forward, away from the shooters and bystanders. The result is a more enjoyable shooting experience for everyone. On hunting rifles it is fantastic, and many states now allow suppressed hunting everywhere. Used in conjunction with electronic hearing protection, you can hear everything around you with no pain when the shot is taken. That is a win whether on the range, in your house, in competition or in the woods hunting.
Quality-built suppressors eliminate most flash, but not all. Generally the first round will have a small pencil-like flash as the air in the suppressor is expelled; it is mostly gone for subsequent shots. Various designs will perform differently based on construction, but this is dependent on ammunition, barrel length and, in the case of an AR, gas port placement.
In most cases, using a suppressor reduces felt or perceived recoil. Truly magnum rounds like .50 BMG, .408 Cheytac — even some .338 magnums — actually add recoil over using a good brake but eliminate much of the blast and sound making it a solid tradeoff. For most hunting and precision calibers, recoil is reduced, and depending on the suppressor’s design it can be as much as 50 percent. It also lessens muzzle rise, allowing for faster and easier follow-up shots — critical in hunting or any other tactical application. It might not make the rifle shoot better, but it makes most shooters better with that rifle.
Pistols And Rimfire
Suppressed pistols offer quite a bit of enjoyment, even in modern self-defense calibers. Most pistol ammunition is subsonic, making them quiet. Pistol suppressors generally come with “moderators” allowing them to cycle and function normally. Pistol suppressors slow slide speed, decreasing recoil and making them pretty soft shooting. Not nearly as common in larger calibers, pistol suppressors are incredibly popular when it comes to rimfire. Both can be a blast to shoot.
Rifles and pistols chambered in .22 Long Rifle, .17 HMR and similar calibers are just plain fun when suppressed. They are quiet, have negligible recoil and are fantastic for family outings, varmint control or just plain plinking on the range.
Great for kids or anyone sensitive to recoil, suppressed small-caliber pistols are also fabulous trainers. Unlike most centerfire rifle suppressors, rimfire suppressors can usually be disassembled for cleaning. Rimfire ammunition is notoriously dirty and can build up over time. Current designs are simple, easy to maintain and relatively inexpensive. Generally the least costly, rimfire suppressors are a great place for a customer new to cans to start.
Suppressors Are Not Perfect
Adding a suppressor to a bolt rifle carries few drawbacks outside added length and weight. When it comes to semi-automatic rifles, especially ARs, it is a different story. Most add backpressure, resulting in increased bolt carrier speed. That can make for unreliability, excessive gas in your face and a filthy rifle.
But adding a suppressor to any AR and some other designs can result in malfunctions. As a rule, the shorter the barrel, the worse the problem. Most can be “tuned” with an adjustable gas block along with different buffers and springs. Just don’t assume it will work on every rifle; it won’t. Know your product, and make sure you understand its operation on various weapons.
Most semi-automatic rifles are “over-gassed” to facilitate various types of ammunition. Adding a suppressor makes this worse, meaning it might increase felt recoil (bolt hitting the back of the buffer). Excess gas coming from the barrel and a couple other places fouls your rifle quickly.
It is often a “dirty little secret” when it comes to the marketing, but it’s there. It can cover your bolt carrier, ammunition and magazine in excess gas. Piston rifles help — especially with short barrels — since the gas is expelled at the front of the rifle, and some ammunition is worse than others.
Take the time to understand the effects and learn how to “tune” guns using adjustable gas blocks, spring rates and different buffers. It’s not rocket science, but it takes a bit of study — the more you know, the better you can sell your customer the correct suppressor and make sure it works on their gun.
Quick-Detach Or Direct Thread
Quick-detach suppressors have little “tactical” value. Attaching the suppressor walking up to the target is mostly fiction and movie magic. What they do is make storage easy and facilitate the use of one suppressor on several rifles. I often recommend a .30-caliber suppressor that can be used on everything from .308 and 300 BLK to 6.5, 6.8 SPC, 5.56mm and the like. Being able to buy separate muzzle brakes (or flash hiders) makes that possible. Most quick-detach mechanisms are solid these days, and while they do change impact when swapped out, it’s often minimal. Quick-detach systems are definitely more convenient, however.
Thread-on suppressors are perfect for precision rifles and generally offer the least change in impact when removed and replaced. Often less costly, less complicated and less prone to coming loose, they are a great choice if your customer is going to keep it on a single rifle.
Given proper threading, they can be moved between rifles, but they are less versatile. Most smaller-caliber rifles like the 5.56 use a different thread pattern, but so long as they are the same they work great. If you are looking for lighter weight, simplicity and lower cost, a threaded suppressor is often the way to go.
Suppressors Are NOT One Size Fits All
You can spend a few hundred dollars on a good suppressor or several thousand. Not everyone needs the Titanium suppressor costing $3,500 — in fact, most don’t. It is important to understand exactly how your customer is going to use their suppressor.
Titanium lowers weight but is incredibly expensive. Same with attachments; they add weight and cost. Suppressors designed to eliminate backpressure are perfect for systems sensitive to it or for guns with short barrels. Putting them on a 20-inch bolt rifle does little a standard suppressor won’t do for less money.
Not everyone needs a suppressor that is rated for fully automatic fire or that can be dropped from a cliff without damage. Just because it costs a ton and is marketed as the best thing since sliced bread doesn’t mean it will meet your customer’s needs. Margins on these costly suppressors are often very tight. Like other things in the gun industry, margins on more common suppressors can be better. Your customer gets what meets his needs without breaking his bank and you make more money — a good combination in my book.
Getting set up to sell suppressors is not difficult at all — it’s actually pretty easy. But it does take some study to understand the industry. The subject is rife with misinformation, marketing and pseudo science, so it pays to learn which suppressors are the real deal. Don’t just buy into the hype of one company — talk to several. No single company carries the best for every need.
Be prepared to do lots of myth busting. With a lot of misunderstanding due to misrepresentation in the media, you might need to educate your customer along with your staff. It takes some time to understand the best way to sell suppressors.
That being said, spend just a bit of time getting smart on the market and you can add a whole other accessory line to your business and get your customer the best suppressor for them at the best cost.
Contrary to popular belief, the value of suppressors in the sporting market is substantial and in many cases far outweighs any real need in the tactical world. They are not items solely for use by gangsters and assassins. They make shooting in public more comfortable, make hunting safer, and facilitate bringing in new shooters.
While they’re no magic bullet, cans make most shooters better at what they do. Done properly, the downsides are minimal; the upsides are substantial. Take the time — you will not be disappointed in the end, and you just might make a few extra dollars along the way.