In the past two decades, sound suppressors have exploded in popularity in the United States domestic commercial market. Once upon a time, anything regulated by the National Firearms Act was relatively rare to see, and ownership of them was limited to the truly dedicated. Several factors, including the loosening of some state restrictions and greater consumer awareness of the availability of suppressors have contributed to their proliferation. Now, it’s not uncommon to see them for sale behind the gun counters all across the country, even in sporting goods chain stores. There are more types of firearms suppressors available, from more manufacturers, than ever before.
The majority of sound suppressors available today are stand-alone units that attach to the muzzle of a weapon by threading onto the barrel or by coupling with a specially-designed muzzle device. This arrangement provides the user with the most flexibility as the suppressor can be utilized on more than one firearm. Many models will either work with or can be adapted to multiple calibers. Some are even modular, allowing users to increase the size (and sound suppression) at their discretion. It can also simplify legal issues, given that these items are NFA regulated and may not be lawful in all jurisdictions.
However, several manufacturers are offering integrally-suppressed firearms today. (An integrally-suppressed firearm, as described here, is one which has a sound suppressor built into the firearm as it comes from the factory, and which is not intended to be used without the suppressor.) These may seem like a recent trend to some shooters, but such weapons have a long history of development and use, going back to the early 20th Century.
Integral Suppression: Pros and Cons
Why integral suppression? This method has some advantages and disadvantages. The biggest disadvantage, as previously alluded to, is the lack of flexibility. The firearm and the sound suppressor are one unit. If you want to suppress a different firearm, you need to file the necessary paperwork, wait for your tax stamp, and purchase another silencer.
This method does offer several advantages, however. The most noticeable such advantage is the reduction in the overall length of the suppressed firearm. A typical centerfire suppressor can be anywhere from a few inches to a foot long, depending on make, model, and caliber, and can weigh as much as a pound. Added to the end of a rifle or handgun, this can make the weapon unwieldly and muzzle-heavy.
A compact pistol isn’t so compact when affixed with what is effectively a 6-8” barrel extension. A 16” barreled carbine is compact and handy, but adding a suppressor can make it handle like a 24” barreled rifle. Designing the firearm with a built-in suppressor reduces the overall size. Additionally, having the sound suppressor itself run the length of the barrel, as opposed to being attached to the end, means the suppressor can be larger in size while distributing the weight more evenly.
It used to be commonly held that an integrally suppressed firearm will be quieter than one with an attached silencer. As technology improved, so did the capabilities of sound suppressors, and the performance gap was reduced. Actual sound reduction can depend on a number of factors and vary by make and model, so an integrally suppressed firearm may not always be quieter, and/or the differences may not be great. By way of comparison, the SilencerCo Octane 9mm is listed at 127 decibels. The integrally-suppressed Maxim-9 pistol is listed at up to 139 decibels.
Current Integrally Suppressed Platform Offerings
There are a variety of integrally-suppressed firearms on the market today, but the most obvious choice to begin the discussion is SilencerCo’s own Maxim-9
Author Larry Correia, who cowrote the Dead Six novel trilogy with me, happens to own a Maxim-9 and was kind enough to send me some photos. Shooting the pistol is his son, Joe Correia.
Moving on, Daniel Defense offers an integrally-suppressed AR-15-type carbine, the DDM4-ISR.
Some may not consider the DDM4-ISR a truly intregrally-suppressed rifle, as it has a very short barrel with the silencer attached to the end of it, but the end result is the same. For a closer look, watch the company’s product spotlight on the DDM4 ISR.
As an interesting aside, Larry Correia (mentioned above) had the same idea way back in 2006. He built a 5.56mm AR-15 carbine with a 10” barrel and a permanently attached suppressor, and called it the AR-SD.
Ruger Firearms currently offers an integrally-suppressed barrel assembly for their .22-caliber 10/22 Takedown rifle, the Silent-SR ISB. This innovative accessory can be attached to any 10/22 Takedown model and reduces sound pressure to approximately 113.2 decibels.
Tactical Solutions has been offering integrally-suppressed barrel assemblies for Ruger rimfire pistols for many years, and still makes them for the current Mark IV series of .22LR handguns.
In the video below, Top Shot Dustin [YouTube channel] reviews the Pac-Lite IV integrally suppressed barrel for the Ruger MKIV pistol.
The MP5SD: A Modern Classic
Bridging the gap between modern and historical integrally-suppressed firearms is perhaps the most famous such weapon ever produced, the Heckler & Koch MP5SD. Designed in West Germany in 1974, this variant of the iconic MP5 has seen widespread service with military and law enforcement around the world for decades, and remains in production to this day.
A descendant of the G3 rifle, the MP5SD is a roller-delayed, blowback weapon chambered in 9x19mm NATO. It features an integral two-stage suppressor that is designed to reduce the velocity of standard NATO ball ammo to subsonic velocities. While it has been uncharitably described as the world’s most expensive .380, the MP5SD was, for many years, the king of suppressed submachine guns.
The Russian Method: The Val and the Vintorez
In the 1980s, the Soviet Union sought to develop better suppressed firearms technology based on experience in their war in Afghanistan. This led to the development of a rifle cartridge specifically designed for subsonic use, the 9x39mm round, and several different firearms to use it in. The AS Val is a suppressed, select-fire assault rifle similar in design and layout to the Kalashnikov series. The VSS Vintorez is a suppressed marksman’s rifle, intended to be used with a scope. Variants of both weapons remain in service to this day.
Brandon Hererra and the gang from Polenar Tactical shoot a VSS Vintorez rifle in the video below.
The MP5SD was not the first integrally-suppressed submachine gun to see widespread use, however. The British made use of such weapons as far back as the Second World War. During the war, British Commandos utilized several types of weapons with built-in silencers. The one to see the most service was the STEN MkII (S). For an in-depth look at this weapon, Historical Firearms has an excellent overview HERE.
Above: Ian at Forgotten Weapons [YouTube channel] demonstrates the suppressed STEN Gun.
The suppressed variant of the STEN saw service in World War 2 and after, with some models even turning up in Vietnam. It was not, however, the only integrally-suppressed firearm the British developed during this time. Another famous example is the De Lisle Carbine.
Essentially an Enfield rifle chambered in .45ACP and utilizing M1911 magazines, the De Lisle was a very quiet firearm that was put to good use in the war despite its small production run. Reportedly only 129 of them were ever built.
There was another integrally-suppressed firearm designed by the British during World War 2 was the Welrod Pistol, a magazine-fed, bolt action handgun chambered either in 9mm or .32ACP. This pistol, produced without markings and intended for clandestine operations, was manufactured during and after the War. It saw service throughout the remainder of the 20th Century, reportedly being used by British and other NATO forces as late as the Gulf War.
After World War 2, the British developed the Sterling submachine gun as a superior replacement for the STEN. As with its predecessor, a version of the Sterling with integral suppression was developed designated the L34A1. It saw service with British Commonwealth and NATO forces throughout the Cold War and into the modern era.
To summarize, everything old is new again, and integrally-suppressed firearms have come full circle. Once the standard, they began to wane in popularity at the end of the 20th Century, but are coming back into their own in the 21st. The American consumer has access to a larger variety of, and higher quality firearms suppressors than ever before