This article originally appeared at Ammoland.

By Tom McHale

Buying a silencer

Tom McHale headshot low-res square

Tom McHale

USA –-( Every time I go to the range with a couple of suppressors, I get the question, “Can anyone buy one of those?” Yes, still, after decades of legality, it’s still a common question, probably because Uncle Spendy makes the process of buying and owning one so darn confusing.

Here, we’re going to take on the herculean, and most likely impossible, task of translating government regulation-speak into common English and a set of easy to follow steps, so you can buy your own suppressor if you so desire.

The whole process just changed somewhat, thanks to the implementation of ATF Rule 41F, which took effect July 13, 2016. Under the new rules, the purchase process became easier for some and more difficult for others. The net-net explanation is that there are two ways to legally buy a suppressor – as an individual or as a legal entity like a trust or corporation. For individuals, restrictions have lightened up a bit. For entities, you have to do more legwork.

While pros and cons of buying as an individual or trust is a whole separate discussion, it’s worth a brief diversion here to look at the big pros and cons.

If you buy as an individual, you fill out paperwork, jump through some hoops, and you own a suppressor. As far as overly-complicated government processes go, it’s a fairly straightforward process. However, you are the only one who can own and use the suppressor. You can’t loan it to someone else. You can’t transfer it to a friend or family member without them going through the whole process you just did.

If you go to the trouble and expense to set up a legal entity like a trust, it’ll cost you a couple hundred bucks for the legal work to create your trust. However, when the trust buys a suppressor, all trustees designated on that trust have legal access to use suppressors, buy more on behalf of the trust, or sell them later. Multiple people have legal authority to use it. As an example, I use a trust for all of my immediate family members so any of us can use any of our collective suppressors. If I die, those I leave behind have full legal right to continue owning and using the silencers.

So back to the how-to process. Let’s take a quick look at the new process for individuals and trusts. We’ll ignore how it used to be because you can’t do that anymore anyway.

If you’re buying a suppressor as an individual, your life is a little bit easier with implementation of 41F, mainly because you no longer need to get specific permission from your chief law enforcement officer (CLEO). We’ll explain that in a minute.

Here are the steps:

Step 1: Choose the suppressor you want from your local dealer. You’ll probably have to pay for it up front, or at least leave a deposit, but that’s up to your dealer. They’ll need some money because they’ll have to hold it for some undetermined number of months while Uncle Sam laboriously scrutinizes your paperwork.

Step 2: Your dealer will help you fill out a BATFE Form 4 titled “Application for Tax Paid Transfer and Registration of Firearm.” Yes, this is for a suppressor, but the paperwork is for other National Firearm Act items too like short barrel rifles. The form asks for information on the specific silencer, its make and model, serial number and so on. It also contains information about you, the buyer. On the back are a series of questions that affirm your legal ability to purchase this item. The requirements are essentially the same as when you pass an NICS check to buy a regular firearm. If you’re not a convicted felon, currently indicted for a felony, drug user, mental defective, and don’t have a restraining order, you’re probably OK.

Step 3: You’ll need to attach a fingerprint card and a 2×2-inch photograph of yourself taken within the past year. Basically, this is a common passport photo. This is a good place to mention how enterprising people have made the process much, much easier. If you buy a suppressor through the Silencer Shop network of dealers, you can use one of their new kiosks. The kiosk will capture fingerprints and take a photo. Your information is securely stored, so anytime you buy another suppressor, the same information can be transmitted to Uncle Fed automatically along with the application paperwork.

Step 4: Next, you’ll need to send a copy of the completed Form 4 from Step 2 to your local Chief Law Enforcement Officer. This is a bit of a chicken and egg situation as the Form 4 asks for the name and address information of the CLEO in your area where you sent a copy of the same Form 4. Just fill it out with the right contact information, then send it to your CLEO. Here’s a positive change for individual purchasers. Before, you would have had to get permission from your local CLEO before even submitting your application to the ATF. Many CLEOs in less gun friendly areas simply would not approve suppressor applications, thereby creating a de-facto ban on suppressor ownership in their area of jurisdiction. Now, you don’t need their permission, you only have to inform them, and they can’t prevent your purchase without a legal reason proving that you are ineligible.

Step 5: Package all this up, along with a check, money order, or credit card number and send it off to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. Your dealer will help you with this to make sure you’ve got everything together. Under the Silencer Shop program, they automate most of this and do it for you, so that’s even better.

Step 6: Wait. And wait. And wait some more. It’ll take months. How many depends on how nervous people are about the pending political situation. If it looks like Hillary is going to win, there will be a flood of suppressor applications and the ATF will get backlogged again, causing delays of a year or more. Now, you’ll probably only have to wait a few months to get your approval back.

Step 7: Eventually, you’ll get a letter from the ATF with a copy of your Form 4 with an attractive and colorful stamp attached. This is your permission slip to take possession of the suppressor you paid for that’s been collecting dust while the ATF dilly dallies around with your application. Make photocopies of this and keep one with the suppressor at all times – you have to produce it if asked by law enforcement. Stash the original away somewhere safe.

If you buy as a trust, the process is almost identical. The only difference is that all trustees will have to do the fingerprints, passport photos, and complete an ATF Form 5320.23 Responsible Person Questionnaire each time the trust acquires a silencer. As a result, your application packet will be about an inch thick, which is really funny because the fine print on all these forms always has a notice about the National Paperwork Reduction Act. Hmmm, imagine that.

That’s all there is to it. It sounds harder than it really is, and a good dealer knows this process cold and can walk you right through it.

Well, folks, this is a great example of your tax dollars at work. All this, just to buy a muffler.


Tom McHale is the author of the Insanely Practical Guides book series that guides new and experienced shooters alike in a fun, approachable, and practical way. His books are available in print and eBook format on Amazon. You can also find him on Google+, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.