The Contentious Discussion on Suppressors – The Loose Cannon

Call them what you will,’ sound moderators’,’ silencers’ or ‘cans’ they remain a contentious subject matter in Australia, with the Government steadfastly refusing to reclassify them so that they are no longer prohibited weapons contending that they have ‘limited effect’.

Silencers have nevertheless taken the shooting world by storm, and internationally it has become a popular accessory for target shooters and hunters alike.

Contrary to the movies, most ‘silencers’ do not render a firearm silent- this is the reason why I prefer the name ‘moderator’ to ‘silencer’. A ‘good’ moderator is going to reduce noise by 30 db and when firing supersonic ammunition, may reduce noise to a point where hearing protection is no longer needed.

Truly silent firearms do exist but these have been developed for military application, for example the silenced Sten, Stirling or MP 5 sub machine guns, De lisle Carbine, Welrod Pistol or a silent .22 High Standard target pistol engineered for the OSS (predecessor of the CIA) during WW2.

There are, no doubt Chinese and Russian models that are not known to the writer that would add to this list.

I consider them to be a useful tool under certain conditions and one that can help prevent the development of sensory neural hearing loss.

It is certainly not the ‘must have’ accessory that some consider them to be, and one of the greatest reasons for their use in the UK is that, being a closely settled Island populated there is a desire in country areas to produce excessive noise pollution.

What I cannot understand is the level of regulation that they attract in Australia. The Sound Moderator hardly deserves to be a prohibited weapon. Indeed, it is really only Australia and Russia that treat it as such, which suggests that Australian policy on the matter may owe more to James Bond movies than to sound regulation- which probably also explains why the crossbow, a device a weapon since the Brits achieved a hat rick at Pozieres, Crecy and Azincourt (note Agincourt is a different town in France that does well from mistaken tourists) not taken seriously is on the list.

Certainly, illegal sound moderators are easy to fabricate, with a Plastic Coke bottle, brillo pads and gaffer tape being all that a would-be maker would need to fabricate one that would be good for a few shots before it disintegrated.

Despite this, and despite Bikie Turf wars in a number of places in Australia, sound moderators are never used in crime and the only criminal charges one sees involving sound moderators involve their possession.

This is consistent with the US, where research indicates that between 1995 and 2005,153 federal criminal cases involving suppressors, only 15 of which involved the actual use of the suppressor in the commission of a crime. Less than 0.1 percent of homicides in federal court, an infinitesimally low 0.00006 percent of felonies in California and a mere 0.1 percent of armed robberies involve a suppressor.

To me, the reason why they continue to be banned is that Police higher management ossified thought issue where they defend existing regulation (ie drug laws) even when they admit that the laws do not work.

If you want to get a suppressor, get informed. There is plenty of material on line dealing with them, and books that are downloadable from Amazon such as Wayne. N ‘Homemade silencers and suppressors’ (for academic use only) and White M ‘Low signature weapons for Military and Police’.

You will find that if you want to make optimal use of a moderator you are going to have to choose the moderator, firearm, rate of barrel twist, throat depth, projectile and powder very carefully if you are to get a satisfactory outcome as you shall probably want to use a heavier slow bullet rather than a fast light one, so research is essential.

One interesting point while on the topic of projectiles, is that during WW2 a production run was done on gold bullets for use in .22 LR suppressed firearms. Because gold is twice as dense as lead they were able to produce a 75 grain round instead of the typical 40 grain projectile loaded (White). This was perhaps the stimulus for the James Bond novel ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’.

If I were looking for a round to use with a suppressor I would be more inclined to look at a Blackout or .44 magnum. If you were simply to stick a moderator onto the end of your 300 Win mag I could almost guarantee disappointment.

Used with supersonic ammunition, you will reduce muzzle blast, and reduce noise by about 50% (Wayne). Under some circumstances this shall result in less disturbed game, as they may be somewhat confused about the direction that the shot came from. As animals tend to focus on the loudest source of noise (the bullet) and its point of impact rather than its source.

Subsonic ammunition shall result in a marked drop in killing power reducing it to approximately 1/8th of a full power round with a similar projectile (White).

Interestingly, evidence led before the Tribunal by NPWS Rangers only seems to deal with the use of moderators with subsonic ammunition, and they seem to use them in this manner in areas where they do not wish to distress humans such as for polishing off rabbits on the North Head reserve in Sydney.

Overseas, hunters tend to use them with supersonic ammunition.

Firearms fitted with suppressors are often long and unwieldy- and most firearms that are purpose build for moderators have short, threaded barrels- typically cut to the legal minimum for long arms in the country concerned, being standard on many rifles in Europe intended for use with a suppressor.

Also think about what you are planning on doing. If you are shooting under a code of conduct, will shooting a bullet at lower velocity comply with it? And does the code permit use of a moderator?

If you are amongst the majority of applicants whose application for a sound moderator has been rejected, and you wish, or have appealed to NCAT, you need to understand that a Tribunal, like a Court, has to apply the law, and it is not open to a Tribunal member to form the view that the Departmental position is rather daft, and simply grant you a permit on that basis.

The best that a Tribunal can do is ‘distinguish’ a problematic authority to side step its implications, as the Tribunal did in the Allen decision, when it distinguished the Osborne decision.

If you wish to apply for a Moderator, you need to be familiar with:

Weapons Prohibition Act (‘WPA’)

Allen v Commissioner of Police, NSW Police Force (2015) NSWCATAD 224 (‘Allen’)

Marando v Commissioner of Police, NSW Police Force (2017) NCAT (‘Marado’).

Osborne v Commissioner of Police (2000) NSWADTAP 10 (‘Osborne’).

On reading the WPA it is evident that permits for prohibited weapons are subject to an over need for public safety. The Act seeks to improve public safety by imposing strict controls and requirements on the ownership and use of prohibited weapons (s3).

In neither of Allen nor Marando cases was a negative case regarding safety advanced by Police other than in Allen to evidence that research in the UK indicated that people intimidated by firearms were more intimidated when a moderator was used! For goodness sake, I would have thought degree of intimidation has more to do with context.

Let’s call it for what it is, as is often the case with firearms laws, we are dealing with regulation for the sake of regulation, injustice, ignorance and prejudice.

I note I wrote an article about the illogical nature of the WPA some time ago, and you may like to look back through my contributions and find it.

So, s 44 is not really considered, nor is s10(4) public interest.

Matters involving moderators centre around whether a person has a genuine reason within the meaning of s8(1) and s11(2) and whether the moderator is ‘necessary’.

In it the Tribunal dealt, as they did in Allen and Marando with what is ‘necessary’.

Necessary. is an ordinary non-technical term- Collector of Customs v Pozzolanic Enterprises P/L (1993) 43 FCR 380 at 287.’Necessary’ means happening or existing by necessity, ‘directly required’ Word ‘necessary’ acting or proceeding from compulsion or necessity, not free, a necessary agent.

Mr Allen owned a property adjoining a National Park where he had stock loss of 25-30% as a result of feral predation. He used this as a means of separating himself from other farmers. He did not choose his neighbours (NPWS) and his need for a suppressor is different to everyone elves.

Mr Marando owned a 5-acre block on Sydney’s outskirts. It was not considered ‘necessary’ in his case.

Often people call me about a permit for a moderator, and they lose interest in applying.

There is an ‘interesting’ case currently before the Tribunal involving a shooter with sensory neural hearing loss. I shall report on this decision as soon as it becomes available.

To me, the impetus for change in this area needs to be political, and shooters need to press for a sensible review of the WPA.

Note, where a permit is held, one needs to be held for the moderator and for the firearm that it is to be used with, because once fitted, a moderator becomes a prohibited weapon.

Note, this article is for general information only and does not involve the provision of advice. It also deals with NSW Law current as at 26 March 2018.




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Simon Munslow