You’ve seen the press coverage of the Silencers Are Legal shoot. You’ve spent hours idly watching YouTube videos of people shooting cool guns quietly. Maybe you went to the shoot or you’ve had the privilege to fire a suppressed firearm belonging to someone else. You can’t wait to buy a can for your own favorite gun, but you’ve heard it is complicated. How does it work?
Bad news first—if you’re a resident of California, Delaware, Washington D.C., Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York or Rhode Island, you are out of luck for now. Silencers are not allowed where you live; no way no how. Support the pro-gun groups in your state that are working hard to repeal unconstitutional gun laws, and bide your time.
Not in one of those states? Great! The next time you’re at Wal-Mart, just swing over to the aisle labeled suppressors/silencers/sound moderators and choose from 9mm, .45ACP, .223, or 7.62. I wish! In reality, we have to deal with the 1934 National Firearms Act, the 1968 Gun Control Act and the 1986 Volkmer McClure amendment to the Firearm Owners Protection Act. I’ll skip the long-winded explanation of all those laws and the changes each one made. I am just going to give you the basic instructions on how to follow the law as it stands right now.
There is another hurdle to jump. The requirements to possess an NFA device are similar to the requirements to own a gun. You must be 21 years old, a U.S. citizen, with no felony or misdemeanor domestic violence convictions. The BATFE will deny your application if any of these apply to you.
- Wait until your wallet is very, very full. Decide carefully what suppressor you want to buy, because you cannot easily fix a case of buyer’s remorse by quickly selling one of these things once you’ve paid for it.
- Find an NFA dealer near you who can do the transfer. Most dealers charge between $50-$100 per transfer, but if you shop around you may find a better deal. Here in north Texas, Silenced America does NFA transfers for only $50. It is best to go with an NFA dealer who already has the suppressor you want in stock, so shop around! If the NFA dealer you choose doesn’t have the suppressor you want in stock, you may have to look for a distributor who has one. Major-Malfunction is a distributor who had a great showing at the Silencers Are Legal Shoot. He has a wide variety of suppressors in stock at all times. In this case, instead of buying your suppressor straight from the dealer’s stock, your dealer must order it from the distributor, who sends it to your dealer, who sells it to you.
- Buy the silencer, err, suppressor. You have to fork over your money but you don’t get to take it home with you. What? In fact, the process is just beginning. The dealer will hold onto the suppressor for a while yet.
- Fill out BATFE Form 4. You can find it here: http://www.atf.gov/forms/download/atf-f-5320-4.pdf. The form itself isn’t hard. If you can fill out a 4473 form to purchase a firearm, you will have little trouble with a Form 4. You’ll need to fill out a line asking why you have a “reasonable necessity” to possess the NFA item. Now is not the time to be sarcastic or make an inside joke—the examiners checking this form are looking for reasons to deny your application. Put “For all legal purposes” in that section and play it safe. You need to sign it and date your Form 4, and you need to do it twice—you must submit this form in duplicate. BATFE will keep one Form 4 for their records and will eventually send the other back to your dealer.
- Attach a passport photo in the space provided on the Form 4. You will need two passport photos because you are submitting two Form 4s.
- Get your Chief Law Enforcement Officer (usually the local Sheriff) to sign both of the Form 4s underneath your passport photo.
- Complete two standard FBI-type fingerprint cards. Most folks will have the Sheriff’s Department do this the same day the Chief Law enforcement Officer signs the form.
- Complete BATFE Form 5330.20. It’s called the Certification of Compliance form and you can find it here. It’s a one-page citizenship form certifying that you are a U.S. Citizen. You don’t have to submit two of these; just do the 5330.20 form one time.
- Take your two completed Form 4s, your fingerprint cards, and your single completed Form 5330.20, and put them in an envelope. Add a check for $200 made out to BATFE NFA Branch—either a personal check or a money order. Mail the packet to:
National Firearms Act Branch
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives
P.O. Box 530298
Atlanta, GA 30353-0298
- Wait. Yes, wait for around seven months. There are 10 examiners right now processing a backlog of more than 26,000 Form 4s. Silencer purchases account for more than two-thirds of that backlog. The BATFE has asked for permission to add five more examiners, but there is a hiring freeze right now so there isn’t much they can do about the situation except process forms as quickly as possible with the staff they have.
A few months after you have sent off your packet of forms, fingerprints, and check, the BATFE will glue a stamp to one of the Form 4s that you submitted and mail it to the dealer holding your suppressor. Your dealer will let you know when he receives the stamped form. You can now take possession of your suppressor and start shooting quietly. Put your original Form 4 somewhere extremely protected, like a bank safe deposit box or a fireproof safe. Make a copy to keep with your suppressor to reassure locals at the shooting range that you are a law abiding citizen.
But wait, there’s more! Many shooters are now purchasing their NFA items using an alternate method. They are creating a trust designed to meet NFA laws. In this scheme, the NFA item is actually in possession of the trust itself, which allows the trustees of the trust to use it. This allows more than one person to own and possess an NFA item as long as each person meets the legal requirements explained above. For example, a friend of mine keeps a short-barreled Saiga 12 shotgun for home defense. Because his wife is also a trustee of the trust that possesses the shotgun, she can grab it and use it in a home defense scenario without worrying about nonsensical charges being filed against her for illegally possessing an NFA item. Using a trust also simplifies the process above. No fingerprint cards are required and no Chief Law Enforcement signature is required. Some shooters live in areas with an anti-gun Sheriff who will not sign a Form 4. The NFA trust is a great way to bypass the barrier of an obstinate Sheriff. There are attorneys in your state who specialize in creating NFA trusts so you don’t have to fret over getting the wording right.
Recently, the BATFE announced that they are going to rework the Form 4 to entirely eliminate the requirement for the Chief Law Enforcement Officer to sign the Form 4. However, there is no timetable for them to do this. Speaking with dealers, shooters, and distributors about this issue, I heard estimates from “by August” to “sometime next year” to “sometime in the next five years.” Nobody knows for sure, probably not even the BATFE!