What's New With Suppressors?

Is it time for your store to go Class III and start selling suppressors?

What's New With Suppressors?

A mere five or 10 years ago, most people gave no thought to firearm suppressors. Sure, they were popular with niche gun owners wanting to be considered “tactical” and willing to jump through the seemingly insurmountable government hoops to own one, but most gun owners had never even shot a suppressed firearm. And having a suppressor on a hunting firearm was nearly unheard of in the United States, although their use was already quite common in some parts of Europe.

As the old saying goes, what a difference a few years make!

Now, suppressor ownership is allowed in 42 states, and 39 of those states permit hunters to use suppressors on their guns. In fact, you can hardly go to deer camp these days without seeing a rifle or two equipped with a suppressor. And a trip to the range without seeing or hearing someone shoot suppressed is now the exception rather than the rule.

Make no mistake: There’s money to be made in suppressors. In fact, margins are much higher than for firearm sales. If you’ve not yet chosen to be one of the one out of 10 FFL holders to sell suppressors and their accessories, read on for some information that might have you rethinking your decision in the near future.


The Legal Part

First, a little background is in order. Suppressors aren’t hard to find for sale, and the process, while aggravating to many, isn’t a particularly difficult one. The problem is how the devices are regulated under federal firearms law, specifically the Firearms Act of 1934.

In order to purchase a suppressor from a dealer, a person must be at least 21 years of age, be legally eligible to purchase a firearm (able to pass NICS check), live in one of the 42 states that allow suppressor ownership, and fill out a government form and pass a background check by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). The last is often a sticking point, not because the background check is so stringent, but because it often takes eight to even 18 months for the agency to complete!

In order to sell suppressors, a Federal Firearms License (FFL) holder must obtain a Class III license. Fortunately, doing so isn’t all that hard a process. According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), dealers who already hold a federal firearms license need to apply for their Special Occupancy Taxpayer (SOT) dealer license. The form may be filled out electronically or printed, filled out manually and sent to the address listed, along with a check for $500 (Class III – Dealer in NFA). SOT licenses are valid from July 1 through June 30 of the next calendar year. License holders must renew their SOT every year and, just as it is when their Federal Firearms License (FFL) is about to expire, they will receive a renewal notice in the mail from ATF.


Suppressors Today

While the cool factor is real, suppressors are more than just cool. They make shooting much more enjoyable and safer on the ears of the shooter and those in the nearby vicinity. While they certainly are not “silent,” as the sometimes-used moniker “silencer” would imply, the decibel level of a shot being fired is greatly diminished using a suppressor, as is the recoil. That’s one thing that makes them great for beginners, who often shy from learning to shoot because of the noise and recoil they fear.

To learn more about the state of suppressors today, we went straight to the industry leader. Ryan Stratton, director of sales for SilencerCo, was happy to explore the wide world of suppressors, where the industry has been, where it is going and what makes selling cans attractive to firearms dealers.

“Right now is a pretty exciting time for the suppressor industry,” Stratton said. “In late 2021, early 2022, the ATF reinstated their E-Form 4 system so that when it launched, it allowed people to file their Form 4s electronically. That reduced wait times.

“The ATF’s target is to hopefully get that wait time to around 90 days. We’re not actually seeing that 90 days right now, but they’re still working through a backlog of paper forms. We’re hopeful that the ATF can get that turnaround time down to about 90 days eventually. It would be a great thing for the industry.”

Gun manufacturing embracing suppressors and making more suppressor-ready models is also making it a great time for those wanting to use suppressors, as well as those selling them.

“We see many big manufacturers of firearms making suppressor-ready models of some of the most popular rifles and pistols out in the industry right now,” Stratton said. “We also see a focus on dealers on processing Form 4s in house, so they can do fingerprints, they can do photos, they can do the paperwork and everything in house. They can make it super quick and easy.

“So, right now is a great time to be in the suppressor industry. For the consumer, you’ve got reduced wait times, you’ve got many host weapons available and you’ve got dealers that know what they’re doing and have streamlined the paperwork process. So, things have been going really well for us and the industry as a whole.”


Going Mainstream?

While suppressors have become much more mainstream over the past five or 10 years, they still remain a very small niche in the overall firearm industry.

“Somewhere around 10 percent of FFLS in the U.S. have an SOT, which is what allows them to sell suppressors and other Class 3 items, so still less than one in 10 dealers stock and sell suppressors,” he said. “So, we still have a lot of room to grow.”

What’s the main reason for the low percentage of shooters purchasing firearms? Stratton believes it’s the simple fact that many Americans simply don’t know that it’s legal to own and use a suppressor, or that it’s fairly easy to acquire one.

“Most people haven’t been exposed to suppressors, don’t know much about them and don’t see them on the shelves at many dealers,” he said. “So, when they walk into a shop or see some guy at the range with a suppressor, they say, ‘I didn’t know those were legal.’

“Education is big. With that comes showing people that suppressors are going to benefit the average consumer, the regular shooter, the hunter. Benefits like reduced recoil, reduced muzzle flash and obviously reduced sound signature make the gun less intimidating for new shooters and kids and anybody just getting into the game.”

Still, growth is happening, and Stratton believes the suppressor market is only going to grow from here.

“We’ve seen many major firearms manufacturers starting to come out with suppressors, and we’re seeing new suppressor manufacturers all the time,” he said. “When you have companies like Sig and Ruger and Daniel Defense getting into the suppressor game, that’s showing you that it’s a viable industry.”


What About Retailers?

Firearms retailers who don’t already deal in suppressors — recall, that’s about 90 percent of FFL holders — have plenty of good reasons to jump into this portion of the industry, according to Stratton.

“I’m not sure that they [those not selling suppressors] are necessarily choosing not to, I just don’t think that they understand the market and the benefits they could get from it,” he said. “First, you’re operating on much higher margins with suppressors. I think what it is, is a reluctance to do something new. They see the paperwork and the liability, and they’re worrying about having the ATF come in and put them under a microscope, which is really not the case.”

Stratton said many FFLs who choose not to sell suppressors mistakenly believe that there’s not a demand for them in their area. However, he thinks that is simply not true.

“You don’t necessarily have the demand in a lot of areas unless you’re putting them out there,” Stratton explained. “I’ll have people say, ‘I don’t have a lot of people coming in and asking for suppressors.’ Well, if you had suppressors on the shelf, you’d actually get a lot more questions about suppressors. Until you actually put it out there, you don’t necessarily get the interest.

“I think a lot of people don’t think there’s a demand for it, when in reality there really is. There’s most likely another dealer in their area that’s getting all that business instead of them.”

Countering that attitude with the facts is one way Stratton has been able to help some retailers overcome their initial fears and embrace suppressors — along with the accompanying higher profits and a stronger bottom line.

“I go in with the numbers,” he said. “I show them how the margins line up. I’ll tell them how important it is to be educated and how our team will come in and educate them, support an event, get them stocked up and help them sell.

“The SOT costs $500 for the dealer — that’s an annual tax. So, there is a little bit of a monetary commitment for them. But normally that $500 can be made back in profit in just a couple of sales. Once you sell your first couple of cans and first couple of accessories, you’ve broken even, so everything else after that is gravy.”

 Looking for some hot suppressor models to stock? Try these options from SilencerCo and Sig.


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