ATF Reverses Position on Silencer Wipes

If anything is certain when it comes to the ATF, it’s that the agency struggles with consistency. Over the years, they’ve gone back and forth on a number of issues, with the most infamous rulings relating to whether or not you can shoulder a SIG/SB Tactical brace. Last week, they decided to change spots on yet another issue – silencer wipes. In a letter to Dead Air Armament, the ATF instructed the suppressor company to cease all sales of rubber wipes intended for use with their Ghost 45M pistol suppressor. Dead Air’s Director of Sales, Gary Hughes, posted the news to Facebook today:

The Bardwell letter referenced by Hughes was a 1999 opinion from the ATF that partly stated, “we consider a baffle to be a silencer, but a wipe, which is usually nothing more than a rubber or plastic disc with a hole in it, is generally not considered to be a silencer. Thus an individual owner could
replace a wipe.” In essence, the ATF wisely ruled at that point that wipes were far too simple to regulate. With today’s news, they’ve changed that stance and wipes are now considered suppressor parts. Anyone in possession of wipes for the Ghost 45M could now be a criminal for possessing spare silencer parts.

For readers who aren’t familiar with wipes, they’re essentially rubber washers with inner diameters (bores) that are smaller than the diameter of the bullet for which the silencer is designed. When a round is discharged, the bullet passes through and makes contact with the wipes, which in turn create a gas seal around the projectile. So long as the wipes are in good shape, they then partly close behind the bullet after it passes. The sealing action traps gas better than conventional, metallic baffles that must allow some safety clearance around the bullet. In the end, wiped suppressors can be even quieter than their conventional cousins. Dead Air’s Ghost is unique because it features a full stack of metallic baffles, but can also support the addition of a single wipe in its end cap.

Dead Air’s wipes for their Ghost 45M

The ATF’s inconsistency notwithstanding, this is a particularly ridiculous policy change for the fact that the wipes in question truly are nothing more than rubber washers. Anyone can simply drive down to their local hardware store and pick up bulk quantities of rubber fender washers in appropriate sizes with little trouble, yet I doubt the ATF is willing to go so far as to consider all rubber washers as silencer parts.

The ATF’s new position is expected to have a significant impact on the rest of the industry. Wiped cans aren’t exactly common these days, but there are plenty of older designs out there that use them. Just last week, I reviewed Gemtech’s Aurora, which is an ultra-compact 9mm silencer that relies entirely on wipes for suppression. Gemtech has a revised version of the Aurora just around the corner and this would certainly prevent them from selling wipes separately (although that wasn’t the plan anyway). From Dead Air’s perspective, the Ghost’s ability to use wipes was a significant competitive advantage over other options.

After having a chance to play with the Aurora and hearing just how effective wipes can be, you can bet I’ll be following this closely. Thus far, the reaction from gun owners has been reasonably strong, but it’s unlikely to prompt a retraction from the ATF. While Dead Air has decided not to fight the change, it is possible that others in the industry could push back in hopes that the Trump DOJ might back down. However, even that isn’t a guarantee.

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