If you don’t live in California, Delaware, D.C., Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, or Rhode Island then yes! You can legally own a silencer. Also known as “suppressors” or casually referred to as “cans,” silencers are currently legal to own and use in the rest of the country which amounts to 42 states in total. Silencers are great for so many reasons: they look sick, reduce the chance of hearing damage, and could help you shoot faster if you tune that 80% AR-15 build right.
The National Firearms Act
First, some background; the first silencer was invented by Hiram P. Maxim in 1903 and the product at the time was in fact called a silencer. (It originally only cost $3.23) Of course, silencers do not completely silence all sound when a gun is fired which is why the term “suppressor” is more technically accurate. In reality, it’s definitely not as quiet as Hollywood depicts it. The sound of your BCG going back and forth can still be very loud.
Fast forward a few decades to the Great Depression and lawmakers created the NFA (National Firearms Act) out of concern that silencers would be used for unlawful poaching. The $200 tax stamp enacted in 1934 remains the same price today if you wish to own an NFA-item such as a silencer.
We’ve already covered the state residency requirement so hopefully you live in a cooler state than us. If so, make sure you also meet the following qualifications:
- Be a resident of the United States
- Be legally eligible to purchase a firearm
- Be able to pass an ATF background check (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives)
- Be at least 18 years old if you’re buying from a private party
- Be at least 21 years of if you’re purchasing from a dealer/store
Steps To Buying A Silencer
Step 1: Choose a Silencer
Make sure the silencer is appropriate for your firearm platform and caliber and purchase it from a Class 3 FFL Dealer.
Step 2: Purchase NFA Tax Stamp
When purchasing your silencer, whether it’s in person at a store or online, you must also purchase a NFA Tax Stamp. Some websites will send the $200 fee for you to ATF on your behalf which is incredibly convenient. If you’re physically at a store you can complete this and the following steps via a S.I.D. (Secure Identity Documentation) Kiosk aka Silencer Shop Kiosk or do it the old school way with physical paperwork. The benefits of using the kiosk is that it saves your information and makes your next silencer purchase that much easier streamlining the process.
Note: If purchasing online or from a store outside of your home state, you’ll have to arrange a transfer. Make sure that the store that you choose for the silencer to arrive at is a Class 3 FFL Dealer. The store you purchase from will communicate with the ATF to get permission for arranging the transfer. This will typically take about a business week for the approval to go through and for the silencer to reach your desired dealer.
Step 3: Choose how you want to file your paperwork
These are the two forms that you’ll need to be aware of:
Form 1: This is for those who are going the DIY route. What that means is buyers who choose solvent traps or an incomplete suppressor device over a completed, pre-made silencer will have a bit of machining work to do on their own end to be able to use it as a silencer (similar to an 80% firearm). Form 1 is also more commonly used to register an existing lower receiver that’s already in your possession as a short-barreled rifle.
Why do you need this form? Just as California residents can technically put any attachment onto their AR-15, if they get caught by law enforcement with an “assault weapon” setup rather than “featureless” they will be in trouble. Likewise, buyers can buy solvent traps on their own and if you know how to use a lathe, you can drill out and complete the device yourself. The Form 1 keeps you legally compliant.
Form 4: This is for those buying pre-made and completed silencers which is best understood as branching off into two parts:
- Individual- If you file as an individual then that means you and only you can legally use and handle the silencer.
- Trust/Corporation- If you file as a trust or a corporation that means multiple people will be able to use and handle the silencer without you needing to be present. The caveat is that then everyone in the trust would have to also undergo a background check which would extend your waiting period to pick up the silencer.
Step 4: File Documents
Now that you’ve chosen how to file, you need to actually file all the documents which include:
- Getting your fingerprints scanned or inked
- Submit personal and demographic information
- Submit passport style photo (can be taken in store)
- Sign Form 4 or Form 1 documents
Step 5: Time to wait.
Wait times with the ATF will always fluctuate but generally speaking these are the waitt times you can expect:
- If you filed for Form 1 — 4 months
- If you filed under Form 4 as an individual — around 6 to 8 months
- If you filed under Form 4 as a trust/corporation — up to 10 months
Step 6: Ok cool guy, time to pick up your silencer.
Due to COVID-19 you’ll most likely need to make an appointment with your store as the process for the paperwork (digital or not) can take some time. So keep that in mind.
When you’re at your dealer’s store, the last document you’ll have to fill out is the Form 4473 which is the same form we fill out when purchasing firearms. Once that’s been completed you will receive your brand new silencer and tax stamp. Keep the stamp somewhere safe and make several copies including a digital one to keep handy on your phone or in the cloud so you can pull it if needed when going out or on the range.
Buying a silencer legally is quite similar to buying a firearm, we hope this has made the process and information much less daunting or easier to understand. Our goal was to be as comprehensive as possible. If you’re just browsing through, consider building an 80% rifle or pistol with a silencer setup from the ground up! We have everything you need to make that happen and let us know if you have any questions or comments.