Whether you’re a rifle aficionado, pistol enthusiast, or both, suppressors just might spoil you rotten. I can speak for most suppressor users when I say, “Once you shoot suppressed, you never go back.”
Why? While a suppressor doesn’t completely silence the noise of a gunshot, it reduces the sound to tolerable, and often hearing safe, levels. A day at the range is a lot more fun without being subjected to the sound of Thor’s Hammer every time you pull the trigger. Additionally, suppressors tend to smooth out recoil. While energy is energy and recoil is still present, suppressors dampen the feel. Since their purpose is to tame the sudden release of hot gases from the muzzle, you’ll feel a much more mellow sensation.
Also see: A Beretta 92 and the Sound of Silence
Suppressors are regulated both by federal and state government, so you have to consider two sets of rules when purchasing one. While that may sound confusing, the process is actually fairly straightforward.
Let’s consider the state issue first. As of today, suppressors are legal to own in 42 states, and in 40 of those, you can use a suppressor for hunting. You can quickly determine your state’s status by visiting the American Suppressor Association.
If you live in a quiet state, then you can move to step two, the federal process. As part of the National Firearms Act of 1934, they are regulated, so you have to get a permission slip from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (BATFE or ATF for short.) While there are some forms to fill out, the process isn’t all that difficult. It’s just more of a nuisance that will set you back some time and two hundred dollars.
You’re eligible to buy a suppressor from a dealer if:
- You are at least 21 years of age
- You are a resident of the United States
- You are legally eligible to purchase a firearm
- You pass a BATFE background check
- You pay a one-time $200 Transfer Tax
You can buy the suppressor as an individual or as an authorized member of a trust or corporation. Whichever method you choose, the process ends the same. The ATF will return a copy of your Form 4 with a colorful new tax stamp attached. That’s your permission slip, and you need to keep a copy of it with you whenever you have your suppressor with you. You won’t be able to take possession of your new suppressor from the dealer until this tax stamp arrives, and that takes a really, really long time. Right now, the ATF is taking 10 - 12 months to process the forms. Be prepared to wait.
While it looks like there are a lot of steps, and there are, remember that your suppressor dealer will help you navigate this process. Let’s explore the process for both individual and trust purchases.
Buying as an individual
Since suppressors are regulated, when you buy as an individual, you are the only one entitled to possess that suppressor. You can’t loan it to a friend, let your brother or sister take it to the range without you, and if you die, no one else can legally use it. It’s kind of like a driver’s license. It’s for you and you only. If you give it to a friend, possession of your license doesn’t entitle them to drive.
1. Fill out the ATF Form 4. This is your application form and, when approved, a copy will be returned to you with the tax stamp attached. You’ll need to submit two copies with your application, one for the ATF to keep and one they return with the tax stamp affixed.
2. Include standard passport photos. These are easy to get. You can take them yourself if you crop and print them to the proper dimensions or you can get them done at most any local shipping store.
3. Fingerprint cards. You’ll need to submit standard FBI FD-258 fingerprint cards. Many local police departments will do this for you but call first to make sure. I got mine done in the booking room of the county jail. That was an interesting experience, but it worked.
4. Include a check or money order for $200 payable to the BATFE. That’s your permission slip fee, and you have to pay it for each suppressor you buy. Yes, it’s highway robbery, but there’s the federal government for you.
5. When your Form 4 comes back, you need to send a copy to your local Chief Law Enforcement Officer (CLEO) for their records. Your dealer can help you find out who that is and where to send the forms.
Buying as a trust (or corporation)
You can set up a firearms ownership trust or corporation and have that legal entity purchase your suppressors and own them. While it’s more of a pain to set up, the benefits are that multiple people can be members of the trust or employees of the corporation, and therefore can legally possess suppressors owned by the trust. I have a trust set up for my family so any of the four of us can take a suppressor to the range. If I get hit by a meteor, the trust continues to own the suppressors, and other trust members can continue to use them. Many lawyers offer firearms trust creation services. Also, suppressor companies and the Silencer Shop offer turnkey trust creation services. It’s surprisingly easy to do.
The process for a trust purchase is almost identical to that of an individual purchase, but there are three differences as follows.
Each authorized member of the trust needs to complete an ATF Form 5320.23 (Responsible Person Questionnaire.) Since the trust is filling out the Form 4, the ATF now wants to have documentation for each member of the trust individually. This is a recent change.
When sending the application package to the ATF, you’ll need to include a copy of the trust documentation itself, or, in the case of a corporate entity, a copy of the articles of incorporation.
When your tax stamp is returned, you’ll need to send both the Form 4 and all of the Responsible Person Questionnaires to the local Chief Law Enforcement Officer.
An easier way
While the process sounds like a pain, and it is, enterprising companies have made it easy. Since most of the requirements are relatively simple but time-consuming chores, the folks at Silencer Shop have automated the process using modern technology.
If you buy a suppressor there, they will handle pretty much everything for you. Just complete an online application form to start the process. Then, using their app on your smartphone, you can quickly take your own passport photos which are captured and uploaded to your application packet managed by the Silencer Shop team. For fingerprints, you can visit one of their hundreds of local dealers nationwide and capture your own fingerprints using their automated kiosks. Your prints are also uploaded and added to our application packet. Pay your tax stamp fee online, and the Silencer Shop folks will manage your entire application process. The best part is that if you want to buy another suppressor, your prints, photos, and application information are already on file, so the process is almost entirely automated. Gotta love innovation!
The Hearing Protection Act
You might have heard rumblings of the Hearing Protection Act. As the name implies, this proposed legislation aims to eliminate all of these onerous requirements to buy a suppressor. In many places in Europe, you can buy them over the counter at a hardware store, so why not here? The act is very simple and nets out to this. If you are legally eligible to buy a firearm, you can buy a suppressor - without all the ATF application paperwork.
While we’re all anxiously awaiting passage of this law, remember that it takes Washington 75% of eternity to get anything done, so if you want a suppressor, I wouldn’t wait. Early iterations of the bill had a clause for the refund of recently paid tax stamp fees. While there’s no guarantee, there’s good shot that if you spend $200 today, and the bill passes soon, you might get that money back. Even if you don't, it might be worth the $200 to enjoy the benefits of shooting suppressed now.