The Legalities Of Silencer Ownership

The Legalities Of Silencer Ownership
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Contrary to popular belief, silencers are and always have been legal to own under federal law. There are, however, 16 states, plus the District of Columbia that prohibit the civilian ownership of silencers. At this time, the following states allow private ownership of silencers: AL, AR, AK, AZ, CO, CT, FL, GA, ID, IN, KY, LA, ME, MD, MS, MT, NE, NV, NH, NM, NC, OH, OK, OR, PA, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, WA, WI, and WY. Of the fifteen states that do not allow civilian ownership, CA, IA, KS, MA, MO, and MI allow Class 3 dealers and Class two manufacturers to possess silencers.

Silencers, like machine-guns, are proscribed under the National Firearms Act (NFA) of 1934, and are regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. The procedure for owning a silencer may seem daunting at first, but actually requires less paperwork than buying an automobile.

To legally purchase a silencer or any item falling under the purview of the NFA, you must be at least 21 years of age, a resident of the United States, and have no felony record. The first step is to locate a Class 3 dealer in your state who either has or will order the item you are interested in. Once a product and price have been settled on, the Class 3 dealer will provide the prospective purchaser with duplicate ATF Form 4’s and two sets of fingerprint cards. The Form 4’s must be filled out on both sides, with passport photos of the prospective buyer affixed to the backside of the form. The buyer then has the Chief Law-Enforcement officer* sign the rear of the Form 4’s attesting the prospective purchaser does not possess a criminal record and is not wanted. The two fingerprint cards must be completed and signed by a Law Enforcement agency. The completed paperwork is then sent to the Department of the Treasury with a check or money order for $200.00. The $200.00 is known as a “transfer tax” because as it must be paid whenever ownership of the silencer is “transferred” (in this case, the dealer to the prospective purchaser). As long as ownership remains with the same person, the tax need not be paid again. Only if the owner sells it will a new transfer tax need to be paid. An owner may will his silencer to a lawful heir with no tax incurred.

Once the paper work is submitted, it normally takes 4 to 6 months currently to receive the approved, stamped paperwork from NFA Branch. It is only upon the return of the approved paperwork that the dealer can allow the prospective purchaser to take possession of their new silencer. A copy of the approved paperwork must accompany the silencer at all times (the original should be stored in a safe deposit box). Silencers can be transported to other states that allow their ownership, but to transport a silencer into one of the sixteen states which prohibit private ownership can subject the owner to serious state felony charges.

*The following is a list of typically encountered Chief Law Enforcement Officers (CLEO):

Chief of Police
Head of State Police Agency
District Attorney
A judge with the power of arrest
Any other law enforcement officer approved for this procedure by the National Firearms Act branch of the BATF.
How long does it take for ATF to process my NFA application?

The processing time for NFA applications varies depending on the type of application submitted. Certain applications require the processing of making or transfer taxes while others are tax-exempt. Some applications require the prospective transferee to pass Federal background checks based on both name and fingerprints while transferees such as law enforcement agencies or foreign military agencies are exempt from background checks. ATF also must ensure that a proposed transfer would not violate State or local law in the transferee’s place of residence. The time needed to research and verify State and local requirements can vary greatly depending on the legal complexity of laws governing the type of firearm sought or the business structure and status of applicants other than individuals.

In addition, the sheer volume of applications submitted for ATF review has dramatically increased in recent years. In fiscal year 2005, for example, ATF processed 41,579 NFA applications of all types. By FY 2011 that number had increased to 105,373, with a 25% decrease in the number of NFA examiners available to process the work. Currently, ATF’s customer service goal is to process an Application to Make and Register a Firearm (Form 1) and an Application for Tax Paid Transfer and Registration of a Firearm (Form 4) within 6 months of ATF’s receipt of a correctly executed application. The customer service standard for processing all other types of NFA applications (i.e., those which don’t generally require tax processing or background checks) is within one month of ATF’s receipt of a correctly executed application. It is important to keep in mind that incomplete or incorrect applications slow ATF’s ability to take final action. If you wish to confirm receipt of an application by ATF or obtain a status check on a pending application, you should call the NFA Branch at 304-616-4500. It will help the NFA Branch locate your application more quickly if you have the serial number of the firearm sought for transfer and the name of the prospective transferee.
Storage of NFA Firearms

To avoid unauthorized transfers, registrants must store NFA firearms so that no one else has access to them. Firearms may be stored at locations other than the address on the firearm registration form, such as a safe deposit box. However, unless the registrant is a Federal firearms licensee who has paid the special (occupational) tax to import, manufacture, or deal in NFA firearms, the NFA Branch should be notified in writing of the new storage location.

Lost or Stolen NFA Firearms

Upon discovering that a registered NFA firearm has been stolen or lost, the registrant is required to immediately notify the NFA Branch of the theft or loss and provide the following information:

The name and address of the person to whom the firearm is registered;
The lost or stolen firearm, including the model, manufacturer, caliber or gauge, and serial number; and
The date and place of the theft or loss, including details of the situation.
Federal firearms licensees must report the loss of theft of their firearms inventory to both ATF and local law enforcement authorities within 48 hours of the discovery of the incident. Please contact ATF at our 24-hour, 7-day-a-week, toll-free hotline number, 1-800-800-3855. Within the 48-hour period, the licensee must complete and file with ATF an ATF Form 3310.11 (Federal Firearms Licensee Theft/ Loss Report). Licensees should provide their license number and the ATF representative will, in turn, issue an incident report number that must be documented in the licensee’s records. This form is available on the ATF Internet website.

Moving Registered NFA Firearms Intrastate

Registrants are not required to obtain permission from ATF to move NFA firearms within their State of residence. However, if a registrant’s address changes after the NFA firearms are registered with ATF, please notify the NFA Branch in writing of the change so the NFRTR can reflect the registrant’s correct address.

Lost or Stolen Registration Documents

Upon discovering that a registration document has been stolen, lost, or destroyed, the registrant is required to immediately report the theft, loss, or destruction in writing to the NFA Branch. The report must contain the details of the situation. ATF will issue a duplicate copy of the registration document as circumstances warrant.

Moving Registered NFA Firearms Interstate

Individuals other than qualified Federal firearms licensees must obtain permission from ATF prior to temporarily or permanently moving a machine-gun, short-barreled shotgun, short-barreled rifle, or destructive device interstate. To obtain permission to move these firearms, please submit to ATF either a letter requesting permission to move them or an ATF Form 5320.20, Application to Transport Interstate or Temporarily Export Certain NFA Firearms. This form is available at the ATF Internet website or may be obtained by contacting the NFA Branch. If you are submitting the request by letter, please include the:

• Name of registrant;
• The firearm(s);
• The current location of the firearm(s);
• The location to which the firearm(s) will be transported;
• The date(s) and means of transportation (car, plane, boat, etc.); and
• The reason the firearm is being moved.

Please also indicate in the letter whether: (1) the move is temporary or permanent; (2) the move will involve a transfer of the title; and (3) whether the possession of the firearm will violate local or State law at the destination. The ATF Form 5320.20 includes these requirements. Requests for interstate transportation will be denied by ATF if possession of the firearm at the destination will violate State or local law.

Registrants do not have to obtain permission from ATF to move a silencer or “any other weapon” interstate. However, if a registrant’s address for these types of firearms changes after registration with ATF, please notify the NFA Branch in writing of the new address, so the NFRTR can reflect the registrant’s correct address.
Status Inquiries

Any inquiry relating to the status of an application to make or transfer an NFA firearm should be directed to the NFA Branch. Be aware that NFA registration information is classified as tax return information and any release by ATF is severely restricted. In general, only the applicant is entitled to the information.

How to Contact the NFA Branch:

244 Needy Road
Martinsburg, WV 25405

Phone: 304 616-4500
Fax: 304 616-4501

Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday (except federal holidays)