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How to Legally Possess a Firearm Suppressor

Posted on June 23, 2023 in

At Stone Rose Law, our expert firearms attorneys frequently get asked how to legally possess a firearms suppressor, often called a “silencer.”

What is a firearms suppressor?

Firearms suppressors are regulated under the National Firearms Act of 1934, which defines a suppressor as any device designed or intended to muffle the report of a firearm discharge. Confusingly, the NFA and Gun Control Act categorizes suppressors as “firearms.”

These devices reduce the volume of a firearm discharge by rapidly cooling the gasses that are expelled after the firearm is discharged. With the proper ammunition and suppressor combination, shooting can be rendered nearly hearing-safe without the need for hearing protection. Thus, firearms suppressors enhance the safety of shooting sports.

Furthermore, suppressors can impact the performance of a firearm by increasing the velocity of the round as it exits the barrel. Hunters and precision target shooters frequently add a suppressor to their firearm of choice for additional performance gains.

How to legally make a suppressor

Making a suppressor is a little different than making another NFA item like an SBR (short-barreled rifle) or SBS (short-barreled shotgun). This is because federal law construes not only a completed suppressor as a “firearm” but also construes those parts, kits, or materials that can “readily be constructed” into a suppressor. Accordingly, prior to purchasing a suppressor manufacturing kit, you must have an approved ATF form 1.

A person intending to manufacture a suppressor will be required to submit fingerprints and passport photos, payment for the $200 tax stamp, as well as notify their Chief law enforcement officer. Note: The Chief law enforcement officer is generally the chief of police of your city, the county sheriff, or the State Attorney General. The Chief law enforcement officer is not required to respond to the notification in any way.

On the application to make a suppressor, you must specifically identify the methods and procedures you intend to use to manufacture the suppressor if approved – i.e., which parts kit or materials you intend to utilize. If you intend to machine your own suppressor from stock, you must advise of that intent as well.

How to legally purchase a suppressor

Purchasing a suppressor is much easier than manufacturing one – at least, for individuals who don’t have access to a CNC mill or an industrial lathe. To purchase a suppressor, you will have to complete an ATF Form 4, pay the $200 tax stamp, and submit fingerprints and photographs along with chief law enforcement officer notification. As previously discussed, the chief law enforcement officer is not required to act upon or respond to the application in any way.

After submitting the required documentation, you will then have to wait for approval – a process that can take more than a year in the worst of times. Upon approval, you can then take possession of your suppressor from the individual that sold it to you.

What about visits?

The NFA process is a little odd in that you have bought and paid for something that you can’t legally possess. To compound matters, ATF Form 4s are taking as long as a year to be approved. To work around this, many gun shops that have an attached range offer so-called “supervised visitation” where the purchaser of the suppressor may shoot with the suppressor at the attached range.

At Stone Rose Law, we frequently get asked about whether this is allowed or proper. Simply put, it can be if certain criteria are met.

First, the range must be attached to the gun shop. If you have to leave the gun shop premises with your suppressor, a “transfer” for NFA purposes has likely occurred.

Second, the suppressor must not leave the range. This should be a no-brainer. You can’t take your suppressor home with you after shooting – you must leave it with the gun shop or else a “transfer” for NFA purposes has likely occurred.

Do you have questions about firearms law or how to legally own a suppressor? Give the expert firearms attorneys at Stone Rose Law a call today to learn fact from fiction and be on the road to hearing-safe shooting before you know it!