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Why Are Suppressors Regulated in the U.S.?

Suppressors are devices that you can attach to the muzzle of a gun to reduce its firing noise. They’re sometimes referred to as silencers or sound suppressors. However, suppressor is a more accurate term than silencer, since shooting a firearm with a suppressor doesn’t eliminate all noise.

In the United States, it’s legal to purchase and own a suppressor as long as you follow the required application process. However, some states have made owning a suppressor illegal. Keep reading to learn more about suppressor laws in America and whether you should invest in one.

How Do Suppressors Work?

When you shoot a firearm, explosive gases push the bullet out of the chamber and drive it toward your target. There’s a lot of energy expelled when you shoot a gun. As these gases leave your gun’s chamber and expand, they make a loud noise and may cause recoil.

Suppressors work by capturing these explosive gases and decelerating them. Instead of immediately exiting the muzzle, gases expand in a series of hollow chambers inside the silencer. This allows the energy of a shot to diffuse before it leaves the silencer.

Although they do significantly muffle the sound of a shot, you’ll still hear noise when you shoot with a silencer. However, the “bang” of your gun will be much quieter and safer for your hearing. Silencers make it easier and more comfortable to shoot your equipment.

Who Can Benefit From Silencers?

The main benefit of a silencer is that it reduces explosive noise when you shoot a firearm. According to the American Suppressor Organization, gunshots typically range from 140 to 185 decibels, depending on the firearm.

Using a suppressor can bring noise down to a safe level, helping hunters and other firearm enthusiasts protect their hearing. In addition to quieting a gunshot, suppressors can also reduce a gun’s rebound after firing. A side effect of less rebound is higher accuracy.

Many people struggle with shooting anxiety because guns are loud and can jump if not held firmly when shot. Silencers solve both of these problems, making safe shooting more accessible for everyone.

Why Does the ATF Regulate Silencers?

The first law regulating guns in the U.S. was the National Firearms Act (NFA), created under President Roosevelt during the Prohibition era. In the early 1930s, guns were improving in accuracy and speed.

Unfortunately, criminals like Al Capone, Bonnie & Clyde and Baby Face Nelson were wreaking havoc with these new weapons. As part of the New Deal for Crime, President Roosevelt helped to pass the National Firearms Act in 1934.

Originally, this act required a $200 tax on machine guns, sawed-off shotguns and silencers, in addition to entry in a national registry for gun sales. Over time, the law has evolved to include other types of weapons and accessories, such as incendiary bombs.

Transferring the NFA to the ATF

Since its inception, different government entities have been in charge of enforcing the NFA. However, in 1972, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF) was formed and given authority to regulate and enforce legislation for firearms in the U.S.

It’s almost been 100 years since the NFA was passed, and silencers are still regulated under the NFA of 1934. Although some things about the law have changed, the $200 tax on suppressors and other listed weaponry has stayed the same.

Why Are Suppressors an NFA Item?

Anything listed in the 1934 NFA law — or its subsequent amendments — is considered an NFA item. According to federal law, these items require an application, including additional taxes and a fingerprinting process, before you can take ownership.

Why Are Suppressors an NFA Item?

Suppressors are considered NFA because they were listed in the original 1934 law. Public opinion is split over whether they should still be taxed so heavily — many firearm enthusiasts feel the $200 tax and application process is unreasonable.

However, others believe restrictions are necessary to prevent criminals from using suppressors to evade legal charges. The conversation between both points of view creates a balance that will continue to guide the legal regulation of suppressors.

Why Are Silencers Illegal in the U.S.?

By federal law, silencers are legal to own, use and sell in the United States. However, not every state allows the purchase or use of silencers. Here are the states that don’t legally allow suppressors for firearms:

  • California
  • Delaware
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Massachusetts
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Rhode Island

You’re also not allowed to own or use a suppressor in the Washington, D.C. area. Before you purchase a suppressor, always check your state law in addition to federal regulations.

If you’re traveling to another state to hunt or visit a shooting range, ensure your suppressor will follow state law and take paperwork with you that shows proof of legal ownership.

Can You Hunt With a Suppressor?

In most states in the U.S., you can legally hunt with a suppressor. According to federal law, hunting with a suppressor is legal across. However, some states have passed laws to prevent the use of suppressors when hunting.

If you’re in one of the following states, you can’t hunt with a suppressor:

  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Massachusetts
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont

Because state laws on guns do occasionally change, it’s important to check for updated information in your state before hunting with a suppressor. As of 2024, Connecticut and Vermont are the only two states where it’s legal to own a suppressor but illegal to hunt with one.

How to Buy a Suppressor

Buying a suppressor is easier than it sounds after reading about the regulations. Many suppliers can help you navigate the application process so that adding a silencer to your equipment isn’t complicated.

Before you start shopping for a suppressor, ensure you meet all legal requirements — including age limits, U.S. citizenship and living in a state that allows ownership. If you meet the initial requirements, you’ll need to fill out an application to the ATF.

Once your application is approved, you can legally purchase a suppressor. The application process includes a background check and $200 tax, so make sure you budget that into the overall suppressor cost.

Visit Keystone Shooting Center

Visit Keystone Shooting Center

Looking to practice your shooting skills? Keystone Shooting Center offers a safe and comfortable venue where you can rent, buy and practice shooting equipment. Our 24 lanes are climate-controlled and we have a full-service firearms superstore connected to the range.

We’re pistol, rifle and AR-15 friendly. Most ammo is allowed, so feel free to bring your own and reach out if you have any questions. If you have a suppressor, you’re welcome to bring it. Pennsylvania is one of the 42 U.S. states that doesn’t have a ban on suppressors.

Walk-ins are welcome and if you’re just getting into shooting and need to rent equipment, we’ve got you covered — our protective gear, gun rentals and ammo are all competitively priced.

Contact us today with any questions — we’re always happy to help!

As somebody that is completely new to shooting, this place was a great place to start. The sales staff is friendly, courteous, patient, and willing to answer any questions that you may have. The same can be said about the ROs.

Matt W.

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