Rimfire Suppressors: Lessons and Warnings

One of my first suppressors, registered ten years ago, was a GEMTECH Outback-II: a lightweight can designed for the diminutive pressure and volume generated by .22LR cartridges. As was common at the time the suppressor was not designed to be routinely opened and cleaned.

This is a big mistake for a .22LR suppressor, and here’s why: .22 rimfires are very dirty. Over time layers of condensed lead, hardened with powder byproducts and bullet lubricant, will accumulate on the baffles that are supposed to disperse the propellant gasses inside the can. After thousands of rounds the silencer can double or triple in weight and lose most of its sound attenuation as it clogs with lead.

A few years ago one licensed manufacturer, SRI, began to “jailbreak” old suppressors that weren’t originally designed to be cleaned: for a few hundred dollars they clean or replace the old core and fit an endcap that can be easily unscrewed. Curious as to just how bad the problem can be I decided to open my Outback II. (Doing this in a non-destructive fashion took quite a bit of work, a lot of penetrating lubricant, and a few special tools.) Here is what the baffles looked like:

Outback-II aluminum baffles after thousands of rounds

For comparison, my latest rimfire suppressor is an AAC Element II, designed to be routinely opened and cleaned, and here is what its baffle stack looks like when new:

Baffle stack from AAC Element II suppressor

Partially sandblasted aluminum baffles from old Outback-II suppressorJust how bad is that fouling? I spent about two hours with a sandblaster trying to clean the Outback’s aluminum baffles. Here’s a picture with two done and two just begun:

I can see why many consider it better to just replace the baffles once they’re this bad. The fouling on the inside cone of the first baffle was so stubborn I simply could not get it off with a sandblaster. Some people report better results wet tumbling baffles with steel pins for a day or two. However any mechanical cleaning strong enough to remove the lead alloy that builds up will eventually degrade the facets of the baffles themselves — especially those made of aluminum.

Is this avoidable? One experienced gunsmith I know has always applied lithium grease every few hundred rounds to his rimfire silencers. After thousands of rounds his suppressors have no buildup that can’t be wiped off with a cloth. Anti-seize and other heavy lubricants are also used for this purpose.

Lessons learned:

  1. Don’t buy a rimfire suppressor you can’t open to lubricate and clean.
  2. If you have a sealed suppressor you shoot a lot of unjacketed bullets through then eventually you’ll need to get it opened and cleaned.

AR-15 “Pistol” PDW

AR-15 .300BLK Pistol PDW

This is my recent AR-15 pistol build. The upper assembly from CMMG was $700 and features a KeyMod free-float handguard and 8″ medium barrel. It is chambered in .300BLK, which is currently the most versatile and efficient AR-15 caliber for such short barrels. I assembled the lower from a Seekins Precision forged receiver, Phase 5 Tactical pistol buffer tube, Noveske QD end plate, CMC 3.5lb single-stage trigger, and Stark SE-2 grip. Total component cost for the lower was $450. Unloaded weight for the complete firearm is only five pounds.

A generation ago sub-machine guns were the middle ground between handguns and full-power rifles. A famous photo from moments after the 1981 assassination attempt on President Reagan shows a Secret Service agent readying an Uzi he had produced from a nearby briefcase. We have since learned that power is more important than volume of fire, and that guns on full-auto with concealable magazines run empty far too quickly. Today the niche between handguns and long guns is filled with rifle-caliber “personal defense weapons” (PDWs), which are powerful enough for a serious gun fight but still portable enough for every day use and potential concealment.

AR-15 Pistol and Short-Barreled Rifle (SBR) lowersThe advantage of a “pistol” AR-15 is that it can be equipped with a barrel shorter than 16″ without the hassles of registering it as a Short-Barreled Rifle (SBR). What qualifies it as a pistol is that it doesn’t have a full stock or second vertical grip, yet the buffer tube required for the AR-15 to function can serve in a pinch as a three- or four-point mount, providing accuracy on par with a traditional carbine. (The ATF, struggling to make 80-year-old laws look reasonable in spite of evolutions in gun design and tactics, recently ruled that even arm braces do not turn a pistol into an SBR.)
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NFA Rules on Pistols, PDWs, AOWs, and SBRs

The National Firearms Act (NFA) was enacted in 1934 in an attempt to control weapons popular in Prohibition era gang warfare. After eighty years its implementation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) has become rather strange, and its controls on items like short barrels and suppressors seem archaic.

The following infographic shows a variant of the XCR with a 10″ barrel. This is a piston-operated autoloading firearm that can chamber a variety of light rifle cartridges. Under federal law the top three configurations are considered pistols, and no special controls apply to their construction, sale, or possession. (State laws can vary widely on these matters, so those are not addressed here.)

Something weird happens in the fourth configuration: Adding a second vertical grip turns it into an NFA-regulated firearm called an “Any Other Weapon” (AOW), and would be a felony if the receiver were not already registered as an AOW.

To comply with the NFA I had to use a different receiver registered as a Short-Barreled Rifle (SBR) for the last picture.

Infographic: NFA Rules on Pistols, AOW, and SBR

Hollywood Reality Check: Stun Guns and Tasers

Not long ago the knockout myth was a staple of action shows: Heroes could drop victims cold with a single karate-chop to the back of the head, then carry on with no concern they would regain consciousness before the end of the scene. Fortunately, increasing awareness of the seriousness of brain injury has relegated this plot device to farces. In reality any blow that knocks somebody out for longer than a few minutes is likely to cause extended and often permanent brain damage.

But Hollywood has replaced the knockout blow with an even more absurd gag: the stun gun, which with a single zap appears to drop victims to the ground and render them unconscious long enough to be moved and tied up. The reality is that electroshock weapons are far less reliable and effective, but also very interesting.

Typical Stun GunBasic electroshock weapons are often misleadingly called stun guns. They create a high voltage charge between two electrodes. When pressed against a conductor like human skin low current flows through the conductor between the electrodes. The current triggers pain receptors, so the victim feels extreme pain, but the sensation is localized to the area between the electrodes. The shock may be startling, but its effects are limited to the individual’s reaction to pain. A typical person will recoil from the shock and try to avoid continued contact. An angry person might just get more angry.

In order to cause more dramatic reactions electric current needs to travel through muscle. Taser International pioneered the development and publicity of electroshock weapons that can cause major muscle groups to involuntarily seize up, usually resulting in victims falling to the ground, incapacitated. There is some fascinating science behind the exact methods Taser uses to achieve these results without endangering a victim’s heart, worth reading in this feature by the IEEE.Taser X26

But Tasers are not magic wands: A lot has to go right for them to work effectively.

First, the electroshock effect only lasts as long as the current runs: As soon as the current stops or the circuit is broken the victim suffers no lingering impairment. To maintain contact Taser electrodes are actually hypodermic barbs. (This fact surprised me, especially since the barbs often punch through clothing and draw blood. A Taser engineer I talked to noted that more than a million people have been voluntarily “tased” and there have been no reports of associated infections. He mused that the electric current may have a sterilizing effect, though there has been no scientific study on that question.)

Electrodes have to span core muscle groups to cause incapacitation. If the barbs are too close to each other their current path, and hence their effects, will be localized. The electroshock effect also depends on where the electrodes hit: Areas with few muscles and nerves, like the lower rib cage, do not reliably incapacitate. However Taser electrodes are also barbed on their sides so that a victim attempting to pull them out to stop the pain will likely complete a highly incapacitating circuit leading from his hand through his chest to the other electrode.

Because the electrodes need some separation Tasers are ideally discharged from a short distance. Two electrodes are propelled from the weapons with an 8 degree vertical spread. In less ideal conditions one electrode can miss, in which case the victim gets no shock. Or the victim could be too close for the electrodes to spread adequately. In those circumstances Taser trains users to “drive” the weapon into contact with the victim: in addition to the fired electrodes a Taser cartridge contains contact electrodes, and its circuitry can detect which one to energize to complete the largest circuit on the victim.

It is possible to “armor” against Tasers by wearing conductive clothing or spray-on coatings. However if you’re armoring yourself against Tasers you should consider that the next steps in the escalation of force are impact weapons or firearms, which will more likely cause serious injury or death. (This is why Tasers are so popular with law enforcement: In many scenarios they can cut short altercations that would otherwise require officers to tackle or grapple subjects, resulting in frequent injuries to both parties. Although that benefit has been tarnished by disturbingly many incidents in which officers abuse Tasers to inflict pain or assert power in non-violent confrontations.)

So, clearly Hollywood is getting it wrong when they depict simple stun guns incapacitating people, or advanced electroshock weapons like Tasers knocking people out. Please stop.

Curious Prices in the PC RAM Markets

A year ago I bought 8GB of DDR3 RAM for $45. I just bought another pair of DIMMs with identical specs and paid $77. Prices spiked to this level during 2013 Q1 and have not retreated, in what seems a blatant market violation of Moore’s Law. Some commentary on this situation notes that historically DRAM producers have whipsawed between cutthroat competition and nearly (if not explicitly) collusive pricing power.