March 17th, 2022

How to Legally Acquire and Register a Suppressor

Suppressor silencer purchase regulations state map BATFE

So you’re thinking of buying a suppressor (aka “moderator”, “silencer”). You can’t just get one off the shelf at Walmart. Acquiring a suppressor requires filling out paperwork and paying a Federal $200 Tax Stamp. Plus there is typically a pretty long wait. However, the good news is that suppressor ownership is now legal in 42 of the 50 American states — that’s 84%! For most American adults, getting a suppressor is legal, provided the buyer passes the required background checks (explained below). The 42 “suppressor-friendly” states are shown as RED in the illustration below.

Suppressor silencer purchase regulations state map BATFE

States Where Suppressor Ownership is Allowed
These 42 states allow private ownership of suppressors: AL, AK, AZ, AR, CO, CT, FL, GA, ID, IN, IA, KS, KY, LA, ME, MD, MI, MN, MS, MO, MT, NE, NV, NH, NM, NC, ND, OH, OK, OR, PA, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VT, VA, WA, WV, WI, WY. Note: Even if you live in one of the states listed, you should still verify that owning a suppressor is legal in your area. Some states may have municipal- or county-based restrictions.

“Suppressor ownership [has] boomed in the 21st century. Thanks in part to companies like Silencer Central that streamline the purchasing process, the number of registered suppressors has grown from 285,000 in 2010 to over 2.6 million in 2020.” — GunsAmerica Digest

States Which Prohibit Suppressor Ownership
The eight states which prohibit suppressor ownership are: California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island. These states are shown in GRAY in the map.

Qualifications to Obtain a Suppressor

To legally obtain a suppressor, you must fill out Federal Forms and pay a $200 fee to the ATF. You must also pass BATFE background checks and otherwise comply with Federal and state laws. States can regulate suppressor ownership or use, so be sure to check the laws in your area. On the federal level, the process to acquire a suppressor is regulated under the National Firearms Act of 1934. According to the American Suppressor Association, to own a suppressor in the United States you must:

1. Be at least 21 years of age to purchase a suppressor from a dealer.
2. Be at least 18 years of age to purchase a suppressor from an individual on a Form 4 to Form 4 transfer (contingent on state laws).
3. Be at least 18 years of age to possess a suppressor as a beneficiary of a trust or as a member of a corporation (contingent on state laws).
4. Be a resident of the United States.
5. Be legally eligible to purchase a firearm.
6. Pass a BATFE background check with a typical process time of 8 to 10 months.
7. Pay a one time $200 Transfer Tax.

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That fifth requirement, “be legally eligible to purchase a firearm”, involves a list of factors. The prohibitions are set forth in the “prohibited person” list found on ATF Form 4473.*

PURCHASING TIP: ATF Announces New e-Form 4 Platform for Suppressor Registration

Hunting with Suppressed Firearms

Some 39 of the 42 states that allow suppressors also permit the use of suppressors when hunting. However, three states which allow suppressor ownership DO prohibit the use of suppressors while hunting or shooting game. These states, all in the Northeast, are: Connecticut, Maryland, and Vermont.

There is an informative article on the NRA’s American Hunter website regarding suppressor use for hunting. The article, What Hunters Need to Know About Suppressors, answers common questions about licensing, tax stamps, and suppressor types. The article explains the history of the $200 tax stamp which must be paid when acquiring a suppressor:

“Why the Tax? In 1934 … the federal government, while battling gangsters such as Al Capone, heavily restricted silencers with passage of the first National Firearms Act. Hoping to gain an advantage on criminals that often had better weapons than cops, the Feds placed a mandatory ‘sin’ tax on silencers that was so high it would effectively ban their purchase by all but the wealthiest individuals. In 1934, $200 was the equivalent of $3,500 today. The $200 tax still stands despite no evidence that a simple metal tube is capable of causing crime.” — American Hunter

The American Hunter article also discusses how well suppressors actually reduce noise. User should be aware that the sound level of a large, centerfire hunting cartridge will still exceed 130 decibels (dB) on average, even with a typical suppressor (silencer) in place. For that reason, we recommend that hunters continue to wear ear protection even when they shoot suppressed.

Persons prohibited from acquiring a firearm, under Federal law, are those who fall into on or more of categories listed below. Prohibited individuals include any PERSON:

— Who was convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year;
— Who is a fugitive from justice;
— Who is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance (as defined in section 102 of the Controlled Substances Act, codified at 21 U.S.C. § 802);
— Who has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution;
— Who is an illegal alien;
— Who has been discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions;
— Who has renounced his or her United States citizenship;
— Who is subject to a court order restraining the person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or child of the intimate partner; or
— Who has been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.

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