Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Prepper's Armory: Buying a Suppressor

In a previous post I talked about the history and function of suppressors, but only briefly referenced how to get one. I'd like to expand on this process, but please keep in mind that I'm not a lawyer and the information in this post is not legal advice.

Speaking of lawyers, do locate a good lawyer who's familiar with federal, local, and state firearms laws. For readers who are members of self-defense "insurance" programs like USCCA or US Law Shield, they usually have a non-emergency legal help line that may be useful in finding a local lawyer who specializes in firearms law.

Individual Ownership or Trust?
This is the first decision that needs to be made after deciding to acquire a suppressor, and there are pros and cons to each.

Individual ownership reduces the amount of paperwork and expense required. However, the suppressor cannot be out of the control of the owner or accessible to other people in the owners absence. Yes, other people can use the suppressor, but only under the owner's direct supervision. In my case, that would have meant getting a separate safe to store my NFA (National Firearms Act) items since my wife has the combination to our gun safe.

NFA Trusts add a lawyer's fee to the overall expense, and each member of the trust has to do a certain amount of paperwork, including fingerprints. Once done, it's the the trust (a legal entity) which owns the NFA items, and all members have authorized access. This can also simplify inheritance, especially if the inheritor is added as a member of the trust prior to final need.

Selecting a Suppressor
Suppressor shopping is the second most fun part of the process. There are numerous suppressor manufacturers to browse, and a large variety of suppressors available from each. However, take any decibel reduction rating with a grain of salt; as far as I'm aware, there are no industry testing standards for suppressors, so it's hard to compare apples to apples.

I'll use my latest purchase as an example. I wanted a suppressor that could be used on 9mm firearms or smaller, specifically my S&W M&Ps in 9mm and .22 rimfire, as well as my 9mm PCCs. One of the benefits of working for a gun shop is the occasional pro-deals available, and so I was able to get a SilencerCo Octane 9 at a nice discount.

Two of the main features that led me to this particular suppressor were the number of different attachment options, meaning that it would work on all the firearms I mentioned above, and the ability to dismantle the unit for cleaning and maintenance. Sealed suppressors can be less expensive, but they're harder to clean, and I prefer user-maintainable designs.

2 Guns, 1 Suppressor

Another consideration when choosing a suppressor is sight line. The vast majority of suppressors are cylinders with the bullet path in the center, which means the outer body of the suppressor can occlude the view through traditional height pistol iron sights. One of the few exceptions is the SilencerCo Osprey series, which places the bulk of the suppressor below the bore axis, much like Hiram Maxim's original designs.

Standard height sights with a suppressor mounted

To make sighting a suppressed pistol easier, regular height iron sights can be swapped out for taller "suppressor height" sights that allow a sight picture above the body of the suppressor. Alternatively, a red dot sight can be used.

Once a suppressor is selected, make sure the FFL of a local dealer is on file with the seller, and order the suppressor. Most suppressor websites will have an FFL locator option to make this easy. 

Once the FFL has been confirmed, add the suppressor to the cart and pay. The item will be delivered to the FFL (anywhere from days to a few months) and the purchaser should be informed within three business days of receipt. Please, do not contact the FFL as soon as product tracking shows it arrived. There's paperwork involved in receiving any firearm, much less an NFA item.

Trust paperwork can be drawn up any time prior to purchase. However, the actual BAFTE Form 4 to start the acquisition process can't begin until a serial number is available; only after that point can everything start moving.

Sample BATFE Form 4

I purchased my latest suppressor through Silencer Shop. They have a fairly painless interface and trust documents can be uploaded as PDFs via the Silencer Shop user portal on their website. More importantly, Silencer Shop has SID (Secure IdentityDocumentation) kiosks in many retail locations, which streamlines the process considerably, including fingerprinting.

Once all the documentation and fingerprints have been submitted, along with a check or credit card details for the $200 federal tax stamp fee, the waiting begins.

According to the BATFE, they've been trying to streamline the processing of suppressor tax stamp applications with a stated goal of achieving a 90 day turnaround time. We're still pretty far from that; my last suppressor (which was approved in mid-August of this year) took around 250 days from application. Current reported average wait times are available on this webpage.

Receipt and Final Notes
One of the recent changes to the suppressor process is that the BATFE no longer sends a physical copy of the tax stamp; instead, the applicant receives a PDF via email. I strongly recommend printing at least one physical copy and storing it in a safe place. In addition, I keep an electronic copy on my phone. By law, the stamp must be presentable to law enforcement any time the owner of an NFA item is in possession of that item.

Sample NFA Tax Stamp

Contrary to common belief, there is no paperwork requirement when transporting a personally owned suppressor across state lines. For any other NFA items, however, a form 20 must be filled out and approved prior to leaving the owner's state of residence.

Once the process is complete, the suppressor can be picked up from the receiving FFL. Then the most fun part can begin: attaching it to a firearm and shooting suppressed.

While some ranges may have restrictions on some NFA items, I've yet to find one that doesn't allow suppressors (as long as suppressors are legal in that jurisdiction, of course). Even though the range may not have legal authority to request viewing the owner's tax stamp, it's a common requirement. You can say no, but then they can just as easily say no to letting you shoot at their range. My advice is don't make a fuss and be prepared to show documentation.

Suppressor Mitt

Two final points. First, get a good heat resistant mitt or pad (another option is a suppressor cover), as suppressors get very hot very quickly. Use the mitt or pad to make sure the suppressor isn't loosening, at least for the first few range outings. If it starts working its way off the barrel, a baffle strike can result. If that happens, the best case scenario is that the end cap needs to be replaced; in the worst case, the suppressor itself is trashed.

Second, consider joining the American Suppressor Association.

Be safe, be careful, be suppressed.

Quality Suppressor Makers

No comments:

Post a Comment

The Fine Print

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- Noncommercial- No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Creative Commons License

Erin Palette is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to