Tech Spec: V20N2

By Rick Vasquez

Flash Suppressor, Muzzle Brakes & Muzzle Attachments And the Assault Weapon Ban

In October of 1994 as part of the Violent Crime Control and Law enforcement Act, what has become known as the semiautomatic assault weapon ban (SAW) was passed. The Gun Control Act (GCA) was modified with section 922(v) which prohibited the possession and manufacturing of certain Assault Weapons and firearms with certain features. Some of those prohibited features were flash suppressors and barrels threaded to accept a flash suppressor.

September 13, 1994: SAW Ban enacted by PL 103-322, Title IX, Subtitle A, section 110105 The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act was enacted on September 13, 1994, and established the definitions of assault weapons firearms and the features that constitute semiautomatic assault weapons. If a complete firearm fitting any of these definitions was in existence on or before the date of enactment of this Law, then it was “grand fathered.” This means that it would be lawful to possess or transfer. The law had a sunset provision in which at the completion of 10 years from the date of enactment the law could expire or the president could extend it or make it permanent. As we all know it was allowed to sunset. However, there are states that began implementing their own SAW ban. Some states adopted the parameters set by the original SAW ban but other states have become creative and have implemented their own interpretation of SAW ban.

One of the areas of study is the state SAW ban laws and to provide information to persons so they do not get caught up in a state violation, which is generally a state felony. In communicating with the states that have restrictions on firearms features it is obvious the personnel that are administering these laws to the citizens have little to no idea what they are doing. This is not true of all of the states but from the numerous calls I have made to the state firearms experts it is obvious that you are rolling the dice to a state felony if you do not understand these laws yourself.

Flash suppressors, muzzle brakes and threaded barrels:

What is a flash suppressor and what is a muzzle brake? All of the gun gurus are saying that is easy; a flash suppressor is designed to hinder the flash and a muzzle brake is a device to help with muzzle rise. You get an “A”. But can they be the same? How much flash must be reduced before it is considered a flash suppressor and not a muzzle brake? What is the standard and who performs a flash test? When shipping a rifle to a state with prohibitions on features, or you are purchasing a rifle with in a state with prohibitions on features, you need to know these answers. Additionally, there are flash suppressors that also function as grenade launchers and bayonet mounts.

While at a trade show in Harrisburg, PA there was a vendor that was selling H&K rifle copies and AK rifle copies that he was advertising as “New Jersey compliant.” The only modification the vendor performed on these weapons was to pin the military flash suppressor in place on the rifles he was displaying. Regardless of the lack of gun knowledge the state administrators have, there are knowledgeable gun people and sooner than later many of these gun owners will be placed in a precarious situation. The following photos demonstrate flash suppressors from 2 different models of firearms:

Most NATO firearms have flash suppressors of the same diameter to accommodate universally sized rifle grenades. If the flash suppressor is not of the proper diameter of the rifle grenade such as FALs and M14 rifles with narrow flash suppressors, then they are equipped with a detachable attachment that slides over the flash suppressor and the grenade will slide over the muzzle attachment. When a state prohibits a grenade launcher it isn’t the M203 grenade launcher or other rifle mounted grenade launchers, because the likelihood of someone transferring an M203 on an AR15 is pretty slim. It is the flash suppressor/grenade launcher identified in the original assault weapons ban. Yet, when you ask the administrators at the state level what is a grenade launcher they cannot explain that the military flash suppressor is a grenade launcher. One state in particular when asked to explain the features as applied in his state told me, “that is a legal question and if you want an answer you need to hire an attorney and appeal for an answer to the attorney general’s office”. This was from the lead detective in charge of the office.

Concerning the practice of pinning a muzzle brake in place, the purpose of pinning the muzzle brake to the barrel is to mask the threads. A banned feature is a threaded barrel that is compatible to accept a military flash suppressor. Once a muzzle brake or thread protector is pinned in place the barrel is no longer considered threaded. In all of the research of all of the state laws and speaking to many personnel not one has been able to give me a standard of what is considered permanently attached. If a person were to look for a standard the best practice would be to use what the ATFE has established for many years. Permanent attached means: “full fusion weld (stick, tig, mig) brazing, silver solder that has at least an 1100 degree melting point, blind pin or set screw welded over”. These methods have always given positive results for permanent attachment.

Testing of a flash suppressor:

With the enactment of the SAW ban ATFE did not have a test protocol to evaluate the reduction of flash of a muzzle attachment, when fired. A protocol was not developed until 2002. This protocol was based on the procedure utilized by the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command at Aberdeen Proving Grounds. The procedure developed was to compare the flash of a firearm without a flash suppressor, against the firearm with the flash suppressor, and any submitted muzzle attachment for a particular model of weapon. This test procedure is consistent with the procedure utilized by the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command, Test Operations Procedure (TOP) 3-2-045.

The following is the test protocol that was developed:

1. A measurement and description is taken of each muzzle submitted for evaluation. The outside diameter of the muzzle attachment must be larger than .865 of an inch, which is the diameter that will accept a muzzle-mounted grenade.

2. Photographs will be taken of the muzzle attachment attached to a firearm while being fired in
complete darkness.

3. A grid, measuring 24 inches by 24 inches and made of 1/4-inch metal rod spaced two inches apart, will be placed 4 inches behind and centered on the muzzle attachment.

4. Take three separate sets of test photographs. Two photographs of each test process.

Document the Camera utilized:
Camera: Nikon D80, digital SLR
Lens: 18-75mm
Ammunition: Federal (Federal ammunition has been used in all previous tests)
Exposure length: bulb
Distance from camera lens to muzzle: 60 inches and level to the muzzle.

Once the test is complete there is not any standard to say if the flash spread was reduced by so many inches, the muzzle device would or would not be a flash suppressor. This is subjective. However, from personal experience military flash suppressors reduce the flash of a rifle a considerable amount. It was an eye opener to see just how well many of these flash suppressors worked. On the other hand there was never a true muzzle brake capable of reducing the flash a sufficient amount to be called a flash suppressor.


Certain states have implemented a SAW ban in an attempt at a modified gun control. If you reside in one of these states, or you provide commerce in firearms in one of these states, and you intend to own or sell firearms, it is imperative you understand the firearms laws for your state. Failing to do so could put you in possession of a physical feature of a sporting firearm of which you could be convicted of a State felony.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V20N2 (March 2016)
and was posted online on January 22, 2016


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