So How Do You Buy A Sound Suppressor?

Zombie Form 4

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Fill out BATFE Form 4. You can find it here: 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Get your Chief Law Enforcement Officer (usually the local Sheriff) to sign both of the Form 4s underneath your passport photo.
  7. 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.
  8. Complete BATFE Form 5330.20. It’s called the Certification of Compliance form. 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.
  9. 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

  10. 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.
NFA Stamp for Suppressor
The NFA stamp itself. Just like a post office stamp, but $200.

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!

Have you ever purchased a suppressor? Tell us how it went in the comments section below!

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (24)

  1. It’s not clear, does the NFA dealer, or seller of a suppressor, send the suppressor to my FFL dealer to hold until my registration is approved? Which would mean I would have to pay for it in full. Secondly, when the stamped form 4 is sent is it sent to the original NFA dealer or my FFL, if my FFL is holding the suppressor. And is the original stamped Form 4 returned to me with the suppressor if it’s still held by the NFA dealer?

  2. Your link in the article to the Form 4 is BAD. It opens on the ATF site and says the page you are looking for was not found.

  3. Hi. Thank you very much for easy way to explain what the process is. I’m currently not a citizen but a resident of the US (green card holder). Can you please tell me if this can be the cause for the denial to obtain my Form 4s approved?

    Thanks in advance!

    Best Regards,


  4. Do you have to pre-buy a sound suppressor, or can you get the stamp in anticipation of getting a suppressor? I would like to start the process and while waiting for the stamp do more research and figure out just which one I may or may not want.

    Thank You.

    1. Every suppressor has a serial number, just like a firearm. This serial number will be on the Form 4 that you submit to the ATFE for approval. Depending on dealer, you may have to pay in full for the suppressor which is then taken out of the dealers inventory and held by the dealer until he receives your approved Form 4. Some dealers may only ask for a percentage deposit.

  5. Great article. on Thanks for the info, you made it easy to understand. BTW, if anyone needs to fill out an ATF form 4, I found a blank form here This site PDFfiller also has some tutorials how to fill it out and a few related forms that you might find useful.

  6. So, does paying to have a trust set up, allow you to get your suppressor any quicker than the 7mo backlog…? and does having a CHL Help…??? can you conceled carry the suppressor…???

    1. I have an NFA trust with multiple suppressors on it. In my case, having a trust did not speed up processing time for any of the cans – short of bypassing the LEO approval part. Nor did having a CHL help process my forms any faster. Having a CHL will speed up processing the Form 4473 which has to be completed for each can (just like a regular firearm) once your FFL advises they have your completed Form 4 and tax stamp waiting for you.

      Each Form 4 submission took about eight months to process back with a tax stamp. One thing I learned that does help speed up the process a couple of weeks is to include a money order instead of a personal check. The BATFE sits on your application while your check clears. A money order provides them your fee right away and they will then get your Form 4 in the pipeline a little faster. I went with Western Union money orders because the have an #800 to call to see if your MO has cleared. Once WU advises the MO has been cashed, that should be when the count down clock starts on Form 4 processing time. Make photocopies of you MO for your records, just in case. Doing that helped me with a SNAFU I ran into the BATFE – another story for another day.

      Lastly, please keep the original Form 4’s and any trust documents in a safety deposit box. You spent to much time, money and effort not to do so. I also went to Kinko’s and had them make me the best color copies they could of each Form 4 to be carried with each can. I had them notarize each copy as an added precaution – but that might have been overkill. Better safe then sorry.

      I can’t advise on carrying concealed other than it seems that bulk might be a problem.

  7. sorry guys one more stupid question if you can conceal your silencer can you carry it on your weapon that you use for personal protection an also can u have full auto handguns im in michigan but will be moving back to Atlanta GA

  8. Don’t forget this lets the BATF into your house. You can look it up but I think it goes like this; 3 times unannounced and as many times as they see fit announced. Now I have a friend who has a suppressor and has never been checked, but then I have a friend who has full auto firearms all relics and gets visited quite regularly.
    You better have the paperwork with the suppressor at all times this agency doesnt mess around.

  9. Robert, its another $200 tax stamp and Form 4 paid by the purchaser each time BATFE transfers possession of the suppressor. That’s why its pretty hard to sell these things once you have one. Purchase carefully!

  10. I know this may sound stupid, but do you have to do this for EACH suppressor you purchase? Or is it a one time deal?

  11. This is such bullcrap. There is no good reason it should take so long, OR be SO expensive to obtain the paperwork. I believe the government engineers it this way just to make it so difficult that most people will say “it’s too expensive,” or “it’s not worth it.” Such governmental bureaucratic garbage by those who think they know what is good for us. NUTS!

  12. Thanks for the article- very informative. Can you do one on obtaining your FFL and the different types? I’ve become interested in that, but I don’t know where to start.

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