In my last post, I noted that one way of building a muzzle brake is to create a chamber in which gasses escaping the muzzle would expand and then be released more slowly. Attentive readers may have noticed that this is also a workable definition of a silencer. The typical airgun muzzle brake would not make a very good silencer- but that’s not always good enough for the BATF. It was, however, enough for Beeman to modify the silencer mounted on the Theoben Eliminators that they sell as Beeman Crow Magnums.
(It may surprise readers to learn that airgun and firearms silencers are less regulated in Europe than in the US; even in countries with very strict firearms laws, silencers are looked upon as a “good neighbor” device one uses to be considerate of those living nearby. On a visit to England some years ago I was surprised to see the wide variety of silencers available in a gun shop I visited.)
There’s a fairly hysterical article on airgun silencers posted at the Beeman site which does contain some good- but out of date- information. What it says is that a silencer is whatever the BATF decides it is, which is true. The BATF determines whether a device is a silencer by taking a device, attaching it to the end of a .22 rifle, and seeing if it attenuates the sound in any way. As many have noted, there are a lot of relatively innocuous things out there that would fit this definition, including lawn mower mufflers, plastic pop bottles, and a good many vegetables, and indeed, the BATF once prosecuted a felon who was arrested during the commission of a crime with a potato stuck on the end of his pistol.
It has been accepted wisdom for some time in the airgunning community that a silencer built into an airgun is not a prohibited device under the National Firearms Act or the Gun Control Act of 1968, since airguns are not firearms according to the BATF- but the Beeman article argues otherwise. The BATF, the Beeman site tells us, has been known to saw a silencer off a paintball gun, tape it to a .22, and do their test. And as the article notes, you may be right in the end, but defending yourself from prosecution may cost you several tens of thousands of dollars as well as your job and a good chunk of your life. But the Beeman article is well over a year out of date- and manages to misquote and misintepret a BATF ruling as well.
In ATF 2005-4, the BATF clarified matters for the airgun and paintball community. In the prologue to the ruling, it states that Certain devices intended to diminish the report of paintball guns are not “firearm silencers” or “firearm mufflers under the Gun Control Act of 1968. The ruling goes on to describe how the BATF sawed a dedicated silencer, mounted it on a .22 and acheived a sound reduction of 7.98 dB, which is is to say not very much.
But it also goes on to say that it is the removal of the silencer from the paintball gun that constitutes the “making” of a silencer- which is prohibited under the GCA. It further concludes:
Held, a device for an unregulated paintball gun, having a permanantly affixed, integral ported ballel and other componants, that functions to reduce the report of the paintball gun is not a “firearm silencer” or “firearm muffler” as defined, as the device is not one for diminishing the report of a portable firearm.
Held, removal of the permanantly affixed ported barrel and other componants from a paintball gun is a “making” of a silencer under the GCA and NFA that requires advance approval from ATF.
This should cover airguns with built in muzzle brakes and silencers/moderators as well, as airguns are also unregulated devices insofar as the BATF is concerned- but I’m not a lawyer, so use your own judgment. Making a silencer, or a muzle brake that could be construed as a silencer, and then attaching it to an airgun, or obtaining an airgun silencer from England would still still be a violation of the GCA and NFA, so do keep that in mind. If you want to go that route, fill out the necessary BATF forms, and pay the $200.
And there is always the chance that the BATF may decide one day to regulate high-powered airguns, in which case we’ll have to revisit this issue.