Many hunters and sportsmen prefer to use suppressors to muffle sound while shooting. These devices help protect their hearing and that of their fellow marksmen. Unfortunately, not everyone can easily access these convenient attachments. Since the National Firearms Act took effect in 1934, suppressors have been subject to its stringent regulations.
Will silencers remain under NFA authority? What efforts have lawmakers taken to remove suppressors from the list of NFA firearms? We aim to explore the answers in this guide.
What Is a Suppressor?
Before examining NFA silencer regulations, you may need a refresher on what constitutes a suppressor. A suppressor or silencer is a cylindrical accessory that screws onto a gun barrel. It regulates the pressure and speed of the propellant gas exiting the muzzle.
In other words, a suppressor stifles the blast after the discharge of a firearm. It helps control recoil, acoustic intensity and noise pollution. It provides more hearing protection for the shooter, decreasing noise by about 20 to 35 decibels — roughly the same protection level as a well-engineered pair of earplugs or muffs.
A silencer can also improve shooting precision. Less recoil makes it easier to control and maneuver the gun. Plus, it can reduce noise complaints from those who live near hunting grounds and shooting ranges.
American citizens can legally purchase and own suppressors in every state except:
- New Jersey
- New York
- Rhode Island
Additionally, 41 states allow suppressor use while hunting. Connecticut is currently the only state that legalizes silencer ownership but prohibits hunting with this device.
Understanding NFA Regulation
The NFA oversees the production, ownership and transfer of specific items, such as machine guns, explosives and short-barreled rifles and shotguns.
Suppressors are also NFA items. That means the transaction process is more complex than walking into a store, purchasing a silencer and immediately bringing it home.
To buy any NFA item, you must pay a $200 federal tax stamp and obtain approval from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. This approval requires completing and submitting ATF Form 4 via mail or e-filing.
You must complete a separate form for every NFA item you wish to purchase. Owning a suppressor without ATF approval and a tax stamp is a federal offense. Consequences can include fines and imprisonment.
The ATF will review your application and perform a background check. Approval wait times can take several months — check the current form processing times for a more accurate estimate.
Silencers are a Class 3 NFA item. Federal Firearms Licensees who are Special Occupational Taxpayers can sell NFA firearms without paying per-item taxes. However, citizens looking to purchase and own suppressors don’t need to be a Class 3 SOT.
Efforts to Remove Suppressors From NFA Jurisdiction
Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho introduced the Hearing Protection Act in 2015. This bill sought to remove silencers from the NFA’s rigorous federal registration requirements. That would have meant:
- Any FFL dealer could have sold suppressors.
- Silencers could be over-the-counter transferred using ATF Form 4473, like a standard long-barreled shotgun or rifle.
- Suppressors would have been subject to the same background checks as non-NFA firearms, instead of undergoing a lengthy federal transfer process.
This bill aimed to simplify the buying and possession process for silencers, increasing their ownership nationwide. It would also make it easier for hunters and target shooters to protect their hearing, hence the bill’s name.
The HPA also proposed refunding the $200 transfer tax to all applicants who bought a silencer after the bill’s introduction date, Oct. 22, 2015. Furthermore, the HPA would allocate more funding to state wildlife conservation agencies by taxing silencers under the Pittman-Robertson Act rather than the NFA.
Under this bill, law-abiding citizens would remain free to purchase silencers. Meanwhile, it would remain illegal for unauthorized customers to buy and own these devices. Unfortunately, the HPA failed to pass both houses of Congress.
Reintroduction of the HPA
Sen. Crapo and his fellow Idaho lawmaker Jim Risch led a group of 24 Senate colleagues in reintroducing the HPA. The bill would reclassify silencers, remove their regulatory burdens and treat them as standard firearms.
The following organizations have also shown their support for the HPA:
- The National Rifle Association
- The American Suppressor Association
- Gun Owners of America
- The National Shooting Sports Foundation
Suppressors are merely mufflers for guns and not actual firearms. Therefore, it’s easy to see why government officials and national organizations favor the HPA. They believe citizens should be able to exercise their Second Amendment rights without sacrificing their hearing or paying a hefty tax. Suppressors are valuable safety tools for preventing permanent hearing loss and promoting more accurate hits.
Will Suppressors Be Removed From the NFA?
Time will tell if lawmakers will successfully remove silencers from the onerous NFA transfer regulations. Rep. Jeff Duncan introduced the HPA into Congress in January 2023, and the bill is still in its early legislative stages. It will likely undergo committee review before moving on.
Changing this federal law has been a lengthy and extensive process. Even so, legislators are persistent in making hearing protection equipment more accessible for recreational shooters. Ideally, the HPA would reduce needless roadblocks for muzzle devices currently regulated under the same standards as automatic firearms.
As the HPA continues its arduous journey, we will see if it proves victorious in ensuring suppressors are no longer NFA items. If the bill is successful, law-following sharpshooters can better protect their hearing in the 42 states permitting private suppressor ownership.
Shop for Suppressors or Reserve a Lane at Keystone Shooting Center Today
While suppressors are still NFA items, don’t let that discourage you from adding one to your arsenal. At Keystone Shooting Center, we aim to simplify the suppressor ownership process as much as possible. Our on-site kiosk allows you to take electronic fingerprints for submission to the NFA, skipping a trip to the courthouse.
Additionally, we’re a reliable source for NFA items in Mars, Pennsylvania. We have an assortment of silencers available through our full-service firearms superstore. We offer suppressors from SilencerCo, Sig Sauer, Surefire and other industry-leading brands.
Whether you’re awaiting ATF approval or already own a silencer, visit our state-of-the-art indoor range. We accept reservations and walk-ins. We also offer obligation-free, no-termination fee memberships for priority lane reservations. Our memberships also include discounts for law enforcement and military personnel.
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