A little less than a year ago, I decided I wanted a silencer. Some people call it a suppressor, but I’m not going to go into a the debate on terminology. Call it what you will. At the end of the day, the classification of the item by the ATF was a silencer and I may call it a suppressor instead here and there. Either way, I’m talking about an item regulated under the National Firearms Act (NFA). This makes the purchase rather interesting.
I really hesitated with this decision at first. I’ve become comfortable with the process of purchasing a firearm. That process isn’t complex, at least not the state I reside. I go to the gun store and pick out a gun, pick out a gun, complete a background check, pay for the gun, and take it home. Or I pick out a gun online, pay for it, wait for it to arrive at my local FFL, complete a background check, pay a transfer fee, and take it home. However, an NFA item is a lot more involved.
Purchase the NFA Item
I’m making a big assumption here thinking that this process is the same for every NFA item. I can’t imagine it being different for different types NFA items. To be clear, this process was for a silencer, but I suspect the process to be for all other NFA items. Right or wrong on my assumptions, the first step was to select and purchase my silencer.
The selection process can become quite involved. One has to consider:
- What firearm the silencer will go on (there maybe multiple firearms)?
- What caliber the firearm(s) is/are chambered in?
- What silencer features are most important?
- Firearm compatibility?
The first concern was easy for me. First and foremost, I wanted the silencer to go on hunting rifle. However, I also wanted to use it with the AR-10 and the AR-15 if possible.
While there are a few silencers specifically made for the .264 caliber projectile of the 6.5mm Creedmoor cartridge the hunting rifle is chambered for, I opted for a little larger .308 caliber silencer. This would allow it to be used on all the rifles I was targeting. This decision gave up a little in terms of optimized sound suppression for the hunting rifle and the AR-15 since they are chambered for smaller cartridges with smaller calibers than the .308. However, I felt that sacrifice was worth it as I didn’t have the budget for three separate cans.
Given my desire for attaching the silencers to multiple firearms, an important feature for me was firearm attachment versatility. As I looked at various attachment options, one of the things I learned quickly is that not all muzzle threads are created equal. Thread pitches matter and when I realized that I needed to support attachment multiple thread pitches, the viable options were significantly reduced.
I ended up deciding on one. The SilencerCo Omega 300 plus an additional quick attach muzzle break for the AR-15 and a direct thread adapter for the hunting rifle. Then I made the purchase.
Buy a Tax Stamp
Before one can file the required paper work to receive approval from the BATFE for possession of the silencer, the next thing one has to do is purchase a tax stamp. It’s currently (and has been for a long time) a flat $200 fee per NFA item.
SilencerShop offers a “Tax Stamp” for $205. For an extra five green backs, they handle printing and sending the check for the tax stamp along with the paperwork to the BATFE. Yes, one could write their own check and save the extra $5 bucks. But then one has to do quite a bit more legwork to file. Frankly, having SilenceShop handle the tax stamp and assist with the filing process made my experience quite a bit easier.
Trust or not to Trust
After a little bit of research I decided on making the purchase through a trust. Some people forego the trust and make the purchase directly, but that really limits who can use the item and what happens to the item upon passing from this Earth. That process seems like it could be a little more straight forward, but it’s not the path I took.
There is an option to file as a corporation, but I didn’t explore that at all. As such, I’m not going to cover it.
There are a few different ways to establish a NFA trust. The best way just depends on personal preference. For example, SilencerShop offers a “Single Shot Trust” which (I maybe inaccurate here) allows the purchase of a single NFA item per trust and allows additional people to be added to the trust at a later time. This allows everyone on the trust to use the NFA item and aids in handling some of those posthumous issues. They also offer a “Single Shot Unlimited Trust” which allows multiple items to be purchased under the trust and also allows additional people to the added later. Both of these offers are based on a single transaction. In terms of price, these seem like good options for folks who want to purchase one or more NFA items via a trust and don’t mind creating a new trust for every transaction. There is a point of diminishing returns on these products as they can cost more than setting up a single traditional trust if one opts for these services several times over one’s lifetime.
While I liked the SilencerShop trust options, I learned that not all NFA item dealer offer a similar service. Given that and the likelihood of me making several similar transactions in the future, I decided to go the traditional trust route and leveraged the NFA program offered by US Law Shield to establish it. The upfront cost was more than the trust options offered by SilencerShop, but there were a few benefits that I liked better. First, they include legal defense (related to transfers) services involving NFA items owned by the trust. I also liked the idea of having a single trust to manage. And a single trust to which I can add future items and make changes to people on the trust with a nominal fee per change. I figured this was the simpler and more economical approach in the long term. Time will tell if I made the right choice or not.
At the end of the day one has to decide whether or not to make the purchase under a trust or not. If one opts for a trust, then one needs to decide how to go about establishing a trust.
Did I mention NFA items are heavily regulated? I’m pretty sure I did. So yeah, fingerprints are required. One’s fingerprints are filed with the required paperwork that goes to the BATFE for approval.
Again, SilenceShop made this pretty easy with their kiosks.
Alternatively, one will have to seek fingerprinting services.
Yet another filing requirement is a passport photo.
And yet again, SilencerShop made this really easy with their smart phone application. All I had to do is take a selfie that met similar requirements to a passport photo. Sorry, duck lips and Snapchat filters are not allowed.
Alternatively, one can go anywhere where passport photo services are offered and get it done.
Form 4 Filing
At this point, one has everything required to file the form 4.
I suspect order of operations up to this point maybe different depending on the NFA item dealer used. If one used SilenceShop services like I did, then the order of the subsections above are directly applicable. Otherwise I suspect, one would have to decide on the filing option first, get fingerprints and photos next, and them purchase the silencer.
Either way, in order to file the form 4 one will need: fingerprints, photo, silencer serial number, check for the tax stamp, and an optional established trust before filling out the forms and filing them.
Form 4 for an NFA items feels a lot like a From 4473 (the background check form used for a typical gun purchase) on steroids. It’s the same personal identification, demographic, and disqualification questions plus the fingerprints, photos, tax stamp payment, and a little extra.
When I purchased my first silencer and submitted my first form 4, I was warned that approval time was around 9 to 10 months.
Truth be told, I’m still waiting 11 months later. But wait, why am I writing this when I’m still waiting for approval? Well, I decided to purchase another silencer and begin the process again. The second purchase was approved and I took possession of the second silencer first.
How can that happen? I have no idea. I literally have no explanation.
The point is the wait is long. Best advice I can offer is to forget about it and be pleasantly surprised when you get the call from your FFL that the tax stamp has been approved and the silencer is ready for pick up.
Upon receiving the approval call, one can then to head over to their FFL, fill out a form 4473 and undergo another background check to finally take possession of the silencer and the approved tax stamp. This may also be accompanied by an additional transfer fee which may be larger than the typical transfer fee for a firearm.
At that point, one can take the approved tax stamp and silencer home.
Don’t forget to carry that approved tax stamp with you wherever the suppressor goes as one maybe required to produce it on demand. If all of that wasn’t enough, one also needs to be wary of the local jurisdiction’s NFA item possession/storage/transportation/usage laws as they may differ from the standard firearm laws.
Is that all?
Almost. If one went the trust route, don’t forget to update the legal documents associated with the trust as/if needed.
My experience is this process is extensive and not for the feint of heart. Yes, it’s doable. However, it takes a long time and places quite a burden on an individual both financially and legally. The consequences of getting something wrong are stiff and heavy.
Is it worth it? To be completely honest, I’m on the fence. I hope that it is. I really like the idea of silencers as hearing protection. There are also plenty of other NFA items that I would like to own. However, only time will tell if the expense, time, and legal gymnastics are worth it.