Purchasing Suppressors: How to Buy a Suppressor the ‘High-Tech’ Way
Tom McHale 07.02.19
Without fail, every time I take a silencer to the public range near my home, I get the same questions:
– How did you get that?
– Are suppressors legal?
– Are you a dealer?
– How can I buy one?
Here’s what that tells me; The process of purchasing suppressors is far too confusing! I guess we can thank Uncle ‘Make-Everything-More-Difficult-Than-It-Needs-To-Be’ for that. Leave it to the government to make a simple sales transaction as mysterious and arcane as possible.
And, yes, suppressors are legal and anyone that can legally buy a firearm can buy a suppressor. I suppose there could be rare exceptions to that, but they’d be few and far between. Of course, some states still won’t allow it, but as of today according to the American Suppressor Association, silencers are legal in 42 states and in 40 of those, you can even use them for hunting.
As we sit here, there are two ways to buy a suppressor, assuming you’re not a federally licensed firearms dealer. You can purchase one as in individual or you can form a legal entity, like a trust or corporation, to buy and own the silencer. Recent changes in policy have changed the purchasing process. One or two changes are for the better while another couple take a large step backward. We’ll dig into those details when we talk about each method.
Buy a Suppressor as an Individual
The individual method is the simplest of the two because there’s no need to incur the expense of creating a trust or company. When you choose your silencer at your local (or online) dealer, you must assemble a packet of information to send to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (BATFE). This packet includes an ATF form 4 in duplicate, which is a questionnaire with your information and details on the suppressor itself. That’s because every single suppressor is “licensed” (for lack of a better word) to you individually and by model and serial number. You’ll also need to include a passport photo of yourself and a set of fingerprint cards. Two more items round out the package: a $200 payment to Uncle Cash Sucker and a notification form to your local Chief Law Enforcement Officer (CLEO).
The CLEO notification represents the positive change in the latest procedure. Before, you had to get permission from that CLEO to buy a silencer. If you lived in an area where your CLEO didn’t want to stick their neck out on your behalf, you were out of luck. Now, the tables are turned and you just have to tell them. It’s a process for CLEOs to deny the de facto permission, so there’s a lot less subjective abuse in the system.
Last but not least, your final step is to forget about your application and move on with your life. You’re not going to get anything back for 8 to 12 months and until you receive a stamped copy of your application, you can’t take possession of, or use, your new silencer that you’ve already paid for. Sounds fair…
Buy a Suppressor as a Trust
A few years ago, buying a suppressor through a trust was the way to go, even though you had to incur the expense and hassle of forming that trust. Creating a legal entity is not as hard as it sounds: you can do it online for a hundred bucks or so. The benefits are significant. When you purchase a silencer as an individual, you are the only person technically authorized to handle and possess the device. Your spouse, children, or friends can’t take it to the range on their own. It’s all about you. The trust owns the device and you can name multiple individuals who have “power” to handle, use, and even buy and sell suppressors. It’s like a company where multiple people can sign checks or have keys to the front door. I have all of my immediate family on my trust for just those reasons.
A trust also required (note the past tense) less hassle for the application paperwork. Just a couple of years ago, each member of the trust didn’t need to submit photos and fingerprint cards, so the process involved a lot less running around town. Try getting all trustees to head down to the police station to get a fresh set of fingerprints every time you buy a suppressor and you see the trouble. However, with those new procedure changes, now trusts also have to submit photos and fingerprints, for each trustee, every single time the trust buys a new suppressor. Yes, the government continues to raise the bar on inefficiency. Even still, a trust may make sense for you because of the “multiple owner” benefits.
The Process Simplified with Technology
Looking through the purchase steps, you’re probably beginning to see where the biggest hassles lie. Setting aside the fact that we should even have to get government permission and spend $200 every time we buy a suppressor for a minute, the steps are a giant steaming pile of redundant logistical headache. Running around town to get photos, forms, and fingerprints that the government already has is a colossal waste of time. One might even think the process was created as a deliberate barrier to silencer ownership. Yes, emphasize the sarcasm on that last statement. Even the pantywaists in Europe recognize suppressors for the safety benefits and you can buy them over the counter in many countries.
In a classic example of the benefits of free enterprise, consider the energetic and innovative folks at Silencer Shop. I can envision a corporate strategy meeting some years back going something like this:
Silencer Shop Dude 1: “Man, we’d love to sell silencers nationwide, but the process is such as pain in the @ss. No sane person who doesn’t suck money out of the economy being employed as a useless bureaucrat can possibly understand it.”
Silencer Shop Dude 2: “Hmmm. What if we used technology to solve the problem? Heck, even our cell phones take pictures and scan fingerprints. Is there any reason we can’t automate this process?”
Silencer Shop Dude 1: “Great idea! Hey! Computers can also store documents, so how about if we let our customers create an application on our system JUST ONCE with their fingerprints, photos, and forms. Every time they buy a new suppressor from us, we can just update the forms and send them to Uncle Pain in the @ss automatically!”
So, there you have it. There’s a new way to buy suppressors (and other restricted products) and it’s awesome. I tried the system at the last NRA Annual Meeting in Indianapolis and it’s shockingly simple.
The Silencer Shop Process
Here’s how the new business model works. Silencer Shop operates a sophisticated website and network of authorized dealers across the country. Some percentage (and it’s growing) of those dealers have an in-store kiosk that resembles an ATM. This clever machine has a computer, a keyboard, and a fingerprint scanner. All of that works in conjunction with a smartphone app. Hmmm.. sounds like everything you might need to complete an ATF Form 4 application for the ATF…
The first step is to choose and purchase your suppressor. Of course, you don’t get to keep it, at least not yet, but the one you select will be yours – eventually. When you buy, you create your online account and profile at Silencer Shop. That’s done from the comfort of your home if you like, or you can march into a local dealer and choose one the old-fashioned way.
When you’re ready to complete your application, you cruise over to an authorized store that has a kiosk installed. The Silencer Shop website will send a QR code to your phone. Allow the kiosk to scan that and it will pull up your account information. At this stage, you just need to fill in the blanks and get your fingerprints and photo done.
The software in the kiosk will walk you through scanning your fingerprints. You’ll do each finger individually on both hands, then the thumbs, them some rolling impressions. The software will check and verify the prints. If the quality isn’t good enough to submit, the kiosk will tell you and walk you through the process of getting them perfect.
Next, you’ll complete the rest of your demographic information. The kiosk will even scan your driver’s license to pick that up automatically. The system will then ask you the standard ATF questions about citizenship, criminal history, and so on.
The next step is the passport photo. Here, the kiosk communicates through the magic of the internet with the Silencer Shop app on your smartphone. Stand against a blank wall and have someone snap your photo and that “passport” photo is sent to your application record.
At the end of the process, Silencer Shop has all the information needed to submit your application. The best part is that when you buy another suppressor, all of this information is already there, so you only need to verify and update where needed.
The beauty of the system is that you don’t need to understand all the legal mumbo jumbo and required forms. The system handles all that for you. All you have to do is follow the bouncing ball and answer the questions truthfully and you’re good to go.
So, the process is now a lot easier. The next step is to remove all this complexity from the law, and of course the $200 anti-fun tax, but that’s another story.