An update on airgun silencers

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

This report covers:

• Are they or aren’t they — legal?
• Some dealers don’t know or don’t care
• Mistakes can be made
• Intent is usually the key
• Your safety net
• Buzzwords that confuse
• Are they removable?
• Pyramyd Air promotion: Win a Red Ryder for Christmas!

Today’s report was specifically requested by Ruth Kass, a member of Pyramyd Air’s sales team. She recently talked to a customer who was very concerned about buying an airgun that might get him in trouble with the law because of a silencer issue. He read my article on airgun silencers, which put doubts in his mind about what’s legal and what isn’t. That article is still valid, but I thought I would leaven it today with some common sense.

There are many more airgun models with silencers today than there were in 2006, when I wrote that article. And let’s get something straight — just because some airgunners call them sound modifiers doesn’t change what they are. If they mute the discharge of the gun they are silencers as far as the law is concerned.

We’ll pretend this person was interested in a Benjamin Marauder, but it could just as easily been one of any number of silenced air rifles being sold today. Even the AirForce Talon SS now has optional Sound-Loc baffles that could come under scrutiny.

Are they or aren’t they — legal?
Here is the answer. All airguns sold by Pyramyd Air are legal throughout the United States, unless they are specifically prohibited by state and local laws. In other words, no U.S. federal laws prohibit the airguns sold by Pyramyd Air in the United States. I have to say it that way because our Canadian neighbors have different federal laws about airguns that are more restrictive. My remarks are intended for residents of the 50 United States.

That said, several states and some municipalities have enacted airgun laws that are more restrictive than federal law. Since these laws change with the changing political landscape, I cannot possibly write a report for any of them. They are in constant motion. It’s up to the buyer to find out what is permitted and what is restricted in their state and city. And don’t ask your local police department. The best place to check is with the office of the attorney general of your state, and again with your local prosecutor’s office. The police enforce the law, but they don’t necessarily keep current on each and every minute aspect of it.

The airguns sold by Pyramyd Air that have silencers on them are legal, according to U.S. law. Why do I say it that way? Let’s find out.

Some dealers don’t know or don’t care
Airgun dealers come and go all the time. The largest dealers that have been around the longest are more likely to sell only airguns that are legal, since violating federal law could endanger their entire business. That’s no guarantee that they can’t make a mistake and let something illegal slip by (I will address this in a moment); but if they have a business to protect, you can bank on them paying attention to remaining on the right side of the law.

It’s the small dealers that rise up and then vanish without a trace that you have to be wary of. These are the people who either don’t care about the law, or they disagree with the law and are willing to let you spend hundreds of thousands of dollars defending yourself to prove their point. Most of them are simply oblivious to the law and to how it applies to the goods they sell. I talk to several of them each year and get their opinions on the law — which they are only too willing to give, by the way. In the Army, we had a name for people with legal interpretations like this, but I can’t mention it here since this is a G-rated blog.

The most dangerous class of small dealers are the ones who sell just silencers. They will sell you a silencer, fully intending for you to install it on an airgun, which 99.99 percent of people do, I’m sure. But it’s that 0.01 percent of the population who cannot do the right thing to save their lives that get the rest of us into trouble. Because, when they mount an “airgun” silencer on the front of their Ruger 10/22 and reduce the sound of the shot by even a little, they are clearly breaking the law. It doesn’t matter that the silencer only works for one shot before breaking apart — that one shot is a clear violation of the federal law that says all firearm silencers have to be registered and must have serial numbers.

Mistakes can be made
Earlier, I said anyone can make a mistake and let something slip past them. Allow me to illustrate. I once traded a firearm rifle to a gun store for an Apache carbine. The Apache was a .45 ACP semiautomatic that used M3 grease gun magazines and fired from a open bolt. Right after we did the deal the BATF (they had one less letter in those days) ruled that the Apache was a submachine gun because they felt it was too easy to convert to full auto. So, the gun dealer contacted me (that’s why they keep records of every sale) to get the Apache back. We undid the deal, so to speak. And the gun dealer lost the Apache that was seized by the feds.

For a short time, I possessed an illegal submachine gun in the eyes of the feds; but because I did not do so intentionally, there was no problem. That is what I meant when I said mistakes can be made.

Intent is usually the key
Before I say what I am about to say next, you need to know that I am not a lawyer, and my opinion does not constitute a legal opinion. It’s just the opinion of a writer who has no legal training.

Intent is what often drives federal agencies to prosecute. Here’s what I mean. If you’re one of 27,000 people who own a Benjamin Marauder and have used it as designed, and then sometime in the future the BATF&E decides that the Benjamin Marauder should not be sold without a valid Form 4 (a silencer license), they are not likely to hunt you down and prosecute you. Even if you bought one used from a private party, the same logic prevails. As long as you follow the new interpretation of the law when it is made public you should be in the clear.

On the other hand, if you purchase and use a “BangAway” sound modifier that screws or clamps onto the barrels of numerous airguns, and you get it from The Zombie Reserve — Your underground supplier for the Apocalypse — I think you are not on such firm ground. Tomorrow, The Zombie Reserve may be out of business; but if you still have their silencer, you may be in trouble.

Your safety net
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATF&E — the federal bureau that regulates silencers) is as aware of the current airgun situation and silencers as the most astute airgunner, and way ahead of the rest of us. They do this for a living, and have a vested interest in what’s going on. So, it comes as no surprise to them that the Benjamin Marauder has baffles inside the barrel shroud, and that those baffles make the gun quieter. They also know that the TX200 Mark III has had baffles inside its shroud for over a decade. They are comfortable with that, as you should be. That’s why I said earlier that people buying airguns from Pyramyd Air should not worry about running afoul of the law. Pyramyd Air only sells those guns they know are accepted by the BATF&E, and if that should ever change, Pyramyd Air would be at the forefront of notifying people of the change.

But if you buy from The Zombie Reserve website — you are what the aviation industry calls a test pilot. Or, in legal terms, a test case. As long as nobody ever arrests you, things are fine. When you’re arrested, though, you have a weak defense.

Buzzwords that confuse
Besides using the term “moderator” instead of “silencer,” airgun retailers commonly use other buzzwords to confuse and sometimes hide what they’re selling. Let’s talk about a few of these.

Bull barrel: A bull barrel (named for marksman Freeman R. Bull) is an extra-heavy barrel that steadies the gun and absorbs heat (in firearms) to keep things stable. Airguns do not have bull barrels today. A few target guns had them as late as the 1980s. When airguns have so-called bull barrels today, they’re just plastic shrouds over a thinner metal barrel. They have zero silencing effect.

Air stripper: Some people who are new to the shooting sports call “compensators” air strippers. They are defining the part by what it does because they don’t know its true name. The purpose of a compensator is to vent compressed air away from the base of the pellet at the muzzle.

Muzzlebrake: There’s no one definition for this term. Compensators are often called muzzlebrakes when they’re used on military firearms. Even battle tanks have them.  But airgun muzzlebrakes tend to be inert barrel extensions that are also larger in diameter than the barrel. On some guns, these brakes extend back so far that the barrel looks like a bull barrel. Muzzlebrakes are commonly used to gain leverage on breakbarrels. Unless they have active baffles inside, muzzlebrakes are not silencers. When muzzlebrakes appear on pneumatic and CO2 guns, they can have baffles and function as silencers. If they can be removed from the gun and attached to a firearm, they fit the BATF&E definition of a silencer.

Lead dust collector (LDC): This is a not-too-clever attempt to hide an illegal silencer. The BATF&E has been on to this for years. You can call them anything you want (even decibel-reduction devices). But if they can quiet a firearm for even one shot, they’d be classified as a silencer.

Are they removable?
So many airguns come with built-in silencers these days, the question becomes, “Can they be removed and installed on a firearm?” If they can and if they reduce the sound of that firearm for even one shot, they meet the definition of a silencer and must be registered. People discuss this to absurdity! Because anything CAN be done. The question is whether or not it can be done relatively easily so there’s a real danger.

This is why I’ve stressed so strongly that buying a silenced airgun from Pyramyd Air is your safety net. They know which manufacturers have produced approved airguns that are quiet. They also know the airguns that the BATF&E might question, and they won’t sell those.

Pyramyd Air promotion: Win a Red Ryder for Christmas!
Do you know someone who’d like a Daisy Red Ryder for Christmas? Pyramyd Air is giving away 25 Red Ryders this year. The model is the 75th Annniversary Red Ryder with the metal cocking lever and special engraving on the stock, so it’s extra-special. Check out their special web page for the rules and how you can win.