Suppressors — or as they are more commonly known, silencers — are regulated under the National Firearms Act of 1934. Like other NFA items, the purchaser of a suppressor faces a background investigation, a lengthy wait and a $200 stamp tax. Unfortunately, not everyone in the U.S. can own suppressors due to state-level prohibitions. Currently, suppressors are legal in 42 states.
For the past several years, enthusiasts have formed and used trusts to purchase NFA items. One advantage of a trust is that several people could share ownership and access to NFA items. That makes a lot of sense for family members and those in the military. While it was attractive that the trust members did not have to provide photographs or fingerprints with their transfer applications, the biggest advantage was that using a trust bypassed the Chief Law Enforcement Officer (CLEO) signoff. In some jurisdictions, the CLEO refused to sign the transfer applications, despite it being legal to purchase NFA items.
Last year, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) introduced new procedures by direction of Executive Action by President Obama. The so-called “41F” rule change replaced the CLEO sign off with a notification requirement. On the other hand, it requires all responsible parties to provide photos and fingerprints as well as fill out individual paperwork for any NFA transfers. For those with multiple trust members or members who are spread out geographically, these new requirements became onerous, undermining much of the attractiveness of using a trust. Combine that with long waits while BATFE processes paperwork along with a $200 per item tax, and sales of NFA items have fallen. This issue has been exacerbated by anticipation of new laws to deregulate suppressors. Potential buyers are trying to wait it out.
Many have heard about legislative efforts to deregulate suppressors at the federal level. A coalition of firearms advocacy groups including the National Rifle Association (NRA), Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF), the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) and, in particular, the American Suppressor Association (ASA) have stood up to alleviate these restrictions.
The most well-known of these efforts is the Hearing Protection Act of 2017 (HPA). The ASA worked with members of the House of Representatives to introduce this bill to the 115th U.S. Congress. Sponsored by Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) and John Carter (R-TX), along with an impressive 157 cosponsors, the bill amends the Internal Revenue Code to eliminate the $200 transfer tax on firearm silencers, and treats any person who acquires or possesses a firearm silencer as meeting any registration or licensing requirements of the National Firearms Act with respect to such silencer. Buying a suppressor would essentially be as simple as passing a NICS check. Furthermore, it would refund the $200 transfer tax to anyone who paid after October 22, 2015. Finally, the bill amends the federal criminal code to preempt state or local laws that tax or regulate silencers.
Elements of HPA, along with numerous other pro firearms proposals, have been rolled into the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act, or the ‘‘SHARE’’ Act, also sponsored by Jeff Duncan (R-SC). Specifically, it removes suppressors from the NFA, subjecting them to the same instant NICS background check as long guns, and issuing a refundable tax credit to anyone who has purchased a suppressor since the HPA’s original date of introduction. Additionally, SHARE ensures that suppressors will remain legal in all 42 states where they are currently legal, after suppressors are removed from the NFA as well as preempting states from levying taxes or registration requirements on suppressors. The act would also give the ATF 365 days to destroy all suppressor-related records from the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record.
While there is a great deal of support, neither have made it out of committee to be considered by the House of Representatives. But that doesn’t mean we should give up hope. It’s been a tumultuous time in Washington. Hopefully, things will settle soon and Congress will get to this legislation.
If suppressor deregulation is signed into law, there will be a fundamental shift in the firearms industry. Suppressors will no longer be specialty items with a tax and long wait times, but rather available directly over the counter. Likewise, their construction won’t be the purview of specialty companies. Rather, everyone who manufactures firearms will add suppressors to their line. Innovation and the breadth of options will grow and prices will drop as supply increases. We will see firearms developed specifically for use with suppressors as well as integrally suppressed weapons.
However, post-deregulation, initial demand for suppressors may far outstrip supply. People who have never owned one will want one or more, likely causing prices to initially rise. Wait times may drastically increase. In the meantime, contact your Congressional Representative and let them know you support the HPA and SHARE Act.
Eric Graves is the editor of the leading tactical-equipment blog “Soldier Systems Daily” and is a former Air Force officer. Featured image: iStock.
Editor’s Note: Since this story was filed, the SHARE Act has successfully passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee, and it includes the latest version of the HPA. However, the bill has not yet been scheduled for a vote on the House floor.