How to Buy a Suppressor

Guns are loud. Suppressors are legal. Save your hearing and consider investing in a suppressor.

How Firearms Work

When you pull the trigger of a firearm, it releases the hammer or striker which allows the firing pin to hit the primer on a round of ammunition. The primer ignites the powder which makes the bullet release from the casing, the powder produces gas and the bullet moves forward out of the barrel. This gas increases pressure behind the bullet, giving the bullet its high velocities. When the bullet leaves the muzzle, the pressure of the released gases causes a loud BANG!

Animation demonstrating how silencers work.
SilencerCo explains how silencers work using this animation.

How Suppressors Work

Do you want to make things go pew pew instead of pow pow? Buying a suppressor isn’t difficult—it just takes time.

Using baffles and chambers, a suppressor allows the hot gas to expand and drop pressure significantly, so the bang isn’t as loud when the gun is fired. These baffles and chambers trap and disperse the gas, allowing it to cool. Silencers reduce the noise of gunfire, reduce recoil and create a smaller muzzle flash, in turn helping to maintain sight picture.

Suppressors don’t actually silence a firearm. Calling it a silencer is a misnomer; however, because of their history, the terms are often used interchangeably. When a gun is fired, the sound reaches anywhere from 140 to 160 decibels—loud enough to cause permanent hearing loss. A suppressor reduces the sound up to 30 decibels.

Black and white photo of a rifle with a suppressor
Suppressors use baffles and chambers to trap and disperse gas, letting it cool and quietening the noise of the shot.

The first “silencer” was invented in 1909 by radio engineer and inventor Hiram Percy Maxim, the son of famed Hiram Stevens Maxim, who designed the first transportable fully automatic machine gun. It is often cited that President Theodore Roosevelt was a fan of the Maxim Silencer.

In 1934, spurred by organized crime and violence during Prohibition, restrictions were placed on the sale of suppressors under the National Firearms Act (NFA.) If you are legally allowed to own a firearm (and are 21,) you are legally allowed to own a suppressor, assuming suppressors are not restricted in your state. The process of buying a suppressor is much like the process of buying a firearm; however, it takes extra steps, extra money and a lot of extra time.

Form a Trust or Purchase as an Individual

There are two ways you can buy and own a silencer—as an individual or through an NFA Gun Trust. Many people choose to go through a trust because trusts offer many benefits:

  • Multiple people can possess and use your silencer without you there, as long as their names are on the trust.
  • Safely, legally and privately pass on NFA items to beneficiaries.
  • Allows you to register multiple NFA items under one trust.

Steps to Buying a Suppressor

black and white photo of suppressor
Suppressors reduce the noise of gunfire up to 30 decibels.
  1. Research suppressors and pick one out. Either purchase it at a dealer directly or have one transferred.
  2. Fill out two BATFE Form 4 at the dealer who will hold your silencer until you receive your tax stamp. Then you must fill out Form 5320.23. If you are registering with a trust, everyone listed on the trust must also fill out Form 5320.23.
  3. Create your trust by contacting an attorney experienced in creating gun trusts.
  4. Get official fingerprints. If you are doing a trust, everyone listed on the trust will also need to submit fingerprints.
  5. Take passports photos. Just like the fingerprints, photos must be submitted of everyone listed on the trust.
  6. Send all documentation, fingerprints, and photos, along with a check for $200 to the ATF. (Include a copy of your trust if you are filing a trust.)
  7. If you are purchasing as an individual, you must send a notification to a local Chief Law Enforcement officer alerting them of your intention of taking ownership of a silencer.
  8. Wait.
  9. Wait some more.
  10. Your paperwork will (eventually) be approved by the BATFE and it will mail back one copy of Form 4 along with your tax stamp, granting you permission to take possession of the suppressor. The firearms dealer will then transfer the suppressor to you (finally) using a Form 4473—the same form you fill out when you buy a gun.

Whether your purchase as an individual or trust is up to you. Before January 4, 2016, owning a suppressor as an individual required permission from a Chief Law Enforcement Officer. It was up to their discretion whether they issued a certification of ownership. Trusts avoided this step, but after ATF Final Rule 41F was signed, this prerequisite was changed to Chief Law Enforcement Officer notification only, as well as providing them a copy of Form 5320.23 for both trusts and individuals.

Woman holding a rifle with a suppressor
Suppressors are good for competitive shooters and those learning how to shoot.

Trusts do involve other people and their commitment to helping you purchase your NFA item, but it does have its benefits. The Dale Carson law firm, which helps create gun trusts says, “An NFA gun trust is a special kind of revocable living trust that is created for the purpose of owning NFA Title II firearms. It allows people to purchase, hold, and use firearms and other items that are restricted by the NFA. It’s easy and relatively inexpensive to do. There are many benefits. The most important is that it protects innocent people from inadvertently breaking the law.” Many suppressor companies offer help setting up a trust for an extra fee. SilencerCo offers its EasyTrust for $130 and Silencer Shop has installed kiosks at gun dealers around the nation called Secure Identity Documentation (S.I.D.) kiosks to help you purchase a suppressor as an individual or on a trust. The S.I.D. kiosk takes your fingerprints, helps you submit your photos and complete the process of sending all your information to the ATF.

Suppressors are not only fun, they are a safe and effective tool for those who shoot a lot, those learning how to operate firearms, introducing youngsters to the shooting sports and especially in preventing hearing loss and tinnitus. If you live in one of the 37 states where hunting with a suppressor is legal, you can enjoy greater predator hunting success and create happy neighbors by avoiding noise complaints.

Do you own a suppressor? Did you purchase as an individual or through a trust? Tell us which one and the advantages and disadvantages of your choice in the comment section.
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