This article is going to cover the process of purchasing your first suppressor. Many people are shocked that it’s possible to do this. Thank Hollywood and the Anti-Gun advocates for that. Owning a suppressor is, and has been legal, for many years. Its legend and lore that makes people think a suppressor is only a tool for criminals and that they are illegal to possess. This is not to say that there aren’t some legalities you need to consider, or some hoops to jump through in order to acquire one. That’s what this article is all about, the legalities and the process of purchasing a suppressor for your personal use!
For starters, you need to live in a state that does not prohibit the possession or use of suppressors. Most states allow ownership and private use, there are some that do not. I’m going to suggest reviewing the excellent graphic from AAC, who produce excellent suppressors here. Have a look at that map and see if your state allows the private ownership and use of suppressors. Here in Colorado, for example, it is legal both to own a suppressor and even to hunt with one if you should so desire. Also, understand that articles on the internet, including this one, are snapshots in time. Just because this graphic is accurate today does not mean that it is accurate in the future. So be sure to check, and double check, the legal side of owning a suppressor. Your Local Gun Shop who has a Class 3 Dealer License will also be able to tell you whether or not it is legal in your particular state.
The next step, once you’ve determined that owning a suppressor is legal in your state, is to file the proper paperwork! Unfortunately, owning a suppressor is a bit more complex than owning a regular firearm. Suppressors are considered Class 3 items that fall under the restrictions of the National Firearms Act. They are often referred to as “NFA Items” because of this. As a result you need permission from the ATF in the form of a Tax Stamp in order to possess a suppressor. So how do you go about getting one of those? That’s the good news, the process is pretty simple and straight forward. The downside is the time involved.
You have to start by going to a LGS (Local Gun Shop) that has a Class 3 Firearms Dealer license. If they have the suppressor you want in the store, you can immediately start the paperwork to purchase and take the suppressor home. This is called a Form 4. More on that in a minute. If the Class 3 LGS doesn’t have the suppressor you want, they have to have it transferred to their shop, via a Form 3 transfer, before you can start the paperwork for your Form 4. This is where time gets to be an issue. A typical Form 3 transfer from a manufacturer to a Class 3 LGS or from one Class 3 LGS to another, can take around 3 months to complete.
Once the Form 3 is complete, you can pay for the suppressor, and file the Form 4 paperwork for your personal possession and use. This is where additional considerations come into play. You can file the Form 4 as an individual. This carries a number of requirements:
- Form 4 Paperwork
- $200 ATF Fee for Application
- Chief Law Enforcement Officer Signoff
- Background Check
The downsides here are the fingerprinting, which can be a hassle, and the signoff of the Chief Law Enforcement Officer. This typically winds up being the Sheriff of the County within which you reside. The issue is, if you live in a somewhat anti-gun county, the Chief Law Enforcement Officer can hold up, delay, or outright refuse to sign off on your Form 4. However, legally, the larger issue is that of possession. If you file your Form 4 as an individual, you are the only one that can possess the suppressor. If you should die in a car accident for example, you can’t leave the suppressor to your family or children along with the rest of your firearms. It becomes a hot potato that only you can hold legally.
Preferred Method of Acquisition
Filing for your Form 4 with a Non Revocable Trust is the preferred method for acquiring, possessing, and deciding how your suppressor and NFA items are handled in the event of your passing. Why? The reason has to do with the restrictions of the National Firearms Act. Legally, an entity like a Trust or a Corporation can own these items. You can form a Trust for as little as $100 dollars using a number of law firms that specialize in creating these types of living legal entities. The advantages of using a Trust for a Form 4 are numerous:
- No Chief Law Enforcement Officer Signoff
- No Fingerprinting
- Suppressor is owned by the Trust
- Anyone who is a Trustee (and not otherwise restricted) can possess the suppressor
So by having the Trust purchase the suppressor, you gain numerous advantages. Again, the terrible car accident scenario where you are in a fatal accident. You’ve already arranged to have your guns left to your family or children, right? If you add your family, children, whomever to the Trust as trustees they can legally possess the suppressor. They can take possession of it and use it just like you did! Additionally you can bypass the CLEO Signoff and Fingerprinting. I have to mention, because somebody will go down this road, that if you have any factors that restrict your possession of a firearm, a Trust is not a workaround.
If you are the subject of a restraining order, domestic violence conviction, if you’ve been declared mentally deficient or you’re a felon…you can’t possess a firearm. You can be made a member of a trust, but the law still applies. If you have checkered past that prevents your legal purchase or possession of a firearm, you can’t possess a suppressor, either. Even if the Trust owns the suppressor, and you happen to be a trustee. It’s not a way to bypass the law, it’s just a way to give you better control over the ownership and use of the suppressor within the confines of the law!
Once you take possession of your suppressor, there are a few things to keep in mind. Whether your filed as an individual or with a trust is irrelevant. You are legally allowed to possess the suppressor now, so you’re all good, right? Be careful here. There are a lot of misconceptions about suppressors. I work in Law Enforcement, and I’ve met Cops that think it’s illegal to possess a suppressor. You have to have a clear understanding of the law in case you have to explain it to somebody else, maybe even a Cop! I highly suggest making copies of your approved Form 4, in color, and laminating them. Keep one in your bag that you take shooting with you, and keep spares in other locations.
This way if you run into somebody that maybe doesn’t understand the legalities, you can explain it and prove your point. Maybe its a Range Officer at your shooting range, maybe it’s a Cop on a traffic stop, who knows. Be able to show them that you are legally permitted to possess it. Whether you think you should have to or not is neither here nor there. Proving legal possession on the spot beats a couple nights in jail and court fees and lawyer payments. Be friendly about it, look at any interaction (even one that starts hostile) as an opportunity to educate somebody on the legalities and benefits of suppressor use.
The biggest issue with acquiring a suppressor tends to be the waiting. Form 3s are running around 3 months at the time of this article and Form 4s are running around 4 months. That means if your LGS has to Form 3 the suppressor, you will be waiting about 7 months before you receive the approved Form 4 and your ATF Stamp. Do your homework, and consider the differences in filing individual versus forming and filing with a Trust. Then, it’s just a matter of paying the $200 fee, filing the paperwork, and waiting. I’ll tell you this much, it’s one of those things where once you acquire a suppressor and shoot with it…you’ll ask yourself: “Why didn’t I do this sooner?” Suppressors reduce recoil and noise, and make the experience of shooting a firearm much more pleasant. Especially among newer shooters, if you’re in a suppressor friendly state…Get To Work! If you have something to add or a question, drop it in the comments below!