How to Buy a Suppressor

-Originally published by Tom McHale at Outdoor Hub

As I write this, 39 of the 50 states allow us regular civilian citizens to purchase and use suppressors. The confusion stems from the fact that silencers are restricted under the National Firearms Act (NFA). That means that you can’t just walk into a store and buy one, you have to go through a few extra steps. The process may sound complicated, but once you wrap your brain around the basic concept, it’s fairly easy. The good news is that your local silencer dealer knows the process inside out and will walk you through it. By the way, the process is mostly identical for other NFA items like short-barreled rifles (SBRs).

Let’s take a look at the legal requirements, then we’ll drill down into the two basic ways you can legally buy your own suppressors. I’ve pulled the legal ownership requirements from information available from the American Suppressor Association. They’re your go-to resource for the latest info on silencer ownership. There you’ll also find current information about which states offer legal ownership.

  • Be at least 21 years of age to purchase a suppressor from a dealer.
  • Be at least 18 years of age to purchase a suppressor from an individual on a Form 4 to Form 4 transfer (contingent on state laws).
  • Be at least 18 years of age to possess a suppressor as a beneficiary of a trust or as a member of a corporation (contingent on state laws).
  • Be a resident of the United States.
  • Be legally eligible to purchase a firearm.
  • Pass a BATFE background check.
  • Pay a one-time $200 Transfer Tax.
  • Reside in one of the 39 states that currently allows civilian ownership of suppressors.

Assuming you meet the federal legal requirements, and live in one of the eligible 39 states, there are two approaches to buying silencers. You can purchase them as an individual or you can form a legal entity called a trust, and have the trust purchase the suppressor for you and other trust members.suprressor

Individual purchase

The advantage to buying as an individual is that you don’t have to complete any legal shenanigans before placing your order. You walk into a store and start the process, which we’ll detail in a minute. The downside is that you, and only you, can possess and use the silencer. If you “transfer” it to someone else, the other party has to go through the same paperwork rigamarole that you did to acquire it in the first place. The law is a bit gray as to the legality of going to the range with a friend or family member and allowing them to use the device in your presence. Technically, this could be considered a transfer, but to my knowledge, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) is not looking to prosecute this type of use case. But don’t take my word for it, they can do what they want.

Here are the steps to buying as an individual:

  1. Find a silencer you like at your local Class III dealer. You’ll most likely have to pay for it in advance, or at least leave a deposit, even though you won’t be able to take possession of it right away. Financial terms may vary.
  2. The dealer will help you complete an ATF Form 4 with the model and serial number of your suppressor. You’ll need two copies of this application.
  3. You will need to get (and some dealers may do this) two passport photos.
  4. Next, you’ll need to get fingerprint cards. Many local police departments will do this, but call first to be sure. I actually got mine done once at the county jail booking facility. I was only there for the fingerprints, really.
  5. Attach a check or money order made out to BATFE in the amount of $200.
  6. You will then need to obtain a signature on your application forms from the local chief law enforcement official. Some officials do this and some don’t, so ask your local dealer how to best complete this step—they’ll know the local politics.
  7. Mail all of this to BATFE.
  8. If not already in stock, the suppressor arrives at your dealer and they hold it until BATFE approval is complete.
  9. BATFE will return to your dealer one of your Form 4 copies complete with a nifty green tax stamp affixed. It’s a really attractive and colorful stamp. It should be, as it just cost you $200.
  10. You take possession of the silencer.

Once you have your tax stamp document, scan or copy it and save the original in a very safe place. Always keep a copy of your tax stamp form with your suppressor. You need to be able to produce that on demand by Uncle BATFE.

Creating an NFA trust

This sounds complicated, but American entrepreneurs have made the process surprisingly easy. You shouldn’t even have to find your own lawyer. There are services online that have done the homework and are able to quickly produce a trust for you that’s legal in all suppressor-eligible states. After all, a trust is not a physical thing, it’s a pile of paper that defines a legal entity. In the case of an NFA trust, an entity is created (a little like a partnership or company) that buys and maintains ownership of the NFA items or suppressors, in this case. The trust designates trustees, who are authorized users of the trust assets (again, suppressors in this case).

There are a couple of big advantages to creating a trust. You only have to do it one time and the trust can own many NFA assets like silencers and SBRs. You can easily add and remove trustees from the trust, provided the trustees all meet the federal legal requirements. If a trustee dies, the silencers are still owned by the trust and a new trustee can be named. In the case of individual ownership, the suppressors would have the be transferred to someone else with the entire tax stamp process for individuals. The biggest benefit to the trust, as of this writing, is that each trustee does not need to submit photographs, fingerprints, or a signed approval from the local law enforcement official. Trustees must be able to pass background checks and when a trustee goes to pick up the silencer, the dealer is supposed to run a background check at that time.

There are a number of companies that offer trust-creation services online. I got mine through GunTrust.com and the process couldn’t have been easier. Recently, SilencerCo launched its own trust service called EasyTrust. For $129.99 you’re good to go. $100 to $200 seems to be the going rate for getting a trust set up but remember, you only need to do that once.

One more thing. As the trust owns the assets, the trust needs to pay for them. The proper way to do this is to set up a checking account in the name of the trust. There are ways to transfer assets paid for individually into the trust, but you’ll need to consult your trust provider about that.

Once you’ve set up your trust, follow these steps:

  1. Bring your trust paperwork to your local Class III dealer.
  2. Bring a check from your trust checking account for $200 made out to BATFE.
  3. Choose your silencer, preferably several! You’ll need $200 for each one. Thank Uncle Sam for that.
  4. The dealer will help you complete a Form 4 with the model and serial number of your suppressor.
  5. The dealer submits your paperwork and payment to BATFE.
  6. If not already in stock, the suppressor arrives at your dealer and they hold it until BATFE approval is complete.
  7. BATFE will return to your dealer one of your Form 4 copies complete with a nifty green tax stamp affixed.
  8. You take possession of the silencer.

As with the individual purchase option, you must have your tax form present with the suppressor itself. It’s also a good idea to keep a copy of the important pages of your trust in your shooting bag also so you can prove you are a trustee of the trust named on the Form 4.

See? It’s not so bad. They key thing to remember is that your dealer has a vested interest in making this process easy for you. That way they can sell more silencers.

Do you live in one of the 11 “no silencers” states? If so, get busy and start hounding your state congress critters. Shooting suppressed is not only safer for all involved, it’s polite.

Footnote: you may have noticed that I’ve used the words silencer and suppressor interchangeably. That was on purpose, as both words are technically correct. Back in 1908, Hiram Percy Maxim patented the first silencer and named it The Maxim Silencer. It didn’t “silence” anything back then either, but that’s the correct name for the technology. Since that time, companies have adopted the word suppressor, but many also use the original name of silencer, too. You are correct calling it either.

Tom McHale is the author of the Insanely Practical Guides book series that guides new and experienced shooters alike in a fun, approachable, and practical way. His books are available in print and eBook format on Amazon.

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