[Image Courtesy of The Firearm Blog]
In additive manufacturing, you start with a powdered metal alloy such as titanium, Inconel, stainless steel, or other material, and the computer-guided lasers “print” or weld the desired shape, fusing the powder into a solid metal surface where the laser hits it, and then the excess powder is collected and reused. A suppressor made in this way can include internal passages, vanes, shapes, and geometries that are impossible to make using baffles or even multi-axis CNC “subtractive” manufacturing (where you start with a billet of metal or other material and cut away the extra).
As a result, today’s advanced-alloy 3D-printed suppressors can feature much lower back pressure (the gases flowing back through the barrel into the action of the gun), muzzle flash, heat retention, and weight compared to traditional designs.
There are also 3D-printed monocore and baffle designs, usually for economy’s sake, but generally, a 3D-printed suppressor is not intended to be disassembled or have its components replaced, since they are typically “printed” all in one piece. You’re going to see many more companies investing in this technology over the coming years (one additive manufacturing machine capable of “printing” a suppressor from appropriate alloys runs about $500,000 to over $1M).
Are silencers legal in the USA?
Yes, with some caveats and qualifications. At the time of this writing, silencers are legal for ownership by non-prohibited persons under federal law in all 50 states but are only legal under state law in 42 states. Silencers or suppressors are considered “NFA” items, meaning they fall under the purview of the 1934 National Firearms Act and Title II of the Gun Control Act of 1968 which regulate, on a federal level, items such as machine guns, short-barreled rifles, “sawed-off” shotguns, “destructive devices,” suppressors, and certain other firearms called “any other weapons” with certain characteristics deemed to be worthy of additional scrutiny and taxation.
These items can’t be transferred (sold, bought, or given) or manufactured without prior federal approval via a special business/manufacturing license or paperwork filed with the Department of the Treasury’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and the purchase of a special tax stamp for each item (see below).