A firearm suppressor, or silencer, as is commonly known, works in the same way as the ones used in cars or other such automobiles.
Silencers are cylindrical and offer a controlled environment where hot gases can expand and escape into the atmosphere without much noise.
Firearm suppressors or silencers consist of a cylindrical casing divided into chambers called baffles, through which the bullet travels.
So, when a firearm with a suppressor is released, the bullet travels through the entire barrel. Different gases work to push the bullet by expanding and depressurizing into the baffle chambers.
These gases decelerate as they move out of the suppressor or silencer, thereby reducing the noise produced.
That brings us to the question. Is a silencer illegal? Let’s try and find out.
It is perfectly legal to own silencers in 42 of the 50 states across the United States.
However, there are eight states where silencers are illegal, including California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. Besides this, owning silencers is also illegal in DC or the District of Columbia.
The National Firearms Act (NFA), 1934, lays down the rules governing silencers’ purchase and use. NFA is the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). To legally purchase a silencer under this rule:
- You must be 21 years to get a silencer or suppressor from an arms dealer.
- You must be 18 years to get a silencer or suppressor from an individual on Form 4 to Form 4 transfer as per the state laws.
- You must be at least 18 years to own a suppressor as a beneficiary of a trust or a corporation member.
- You must reside in the United States.
- You must be legally allowed to purchase a firearm.
- You must successfully go through and complete a BATFE background verification that typically takes 8 to 10 months.
- You must pay a $200 one-time transfer tax.
- You must reside in any 42 states that allow civilians to own a firearm with a silencer or suppressor.
BATFE regulates the use and access of silencers to make them not readily available to criminals.
BATFE formulates these regulatory policies while considering the law-abiding individuals who want to buy and use them.
Silencers reduce the amount of noise that the firearm produces, making it difficult to determine the shooting location.
So, it can be challenging for law enforcement officers to respond to reported shootings. Silencers also make it harder for bystanders to know about the shooting, and they won’t be able to report it to law enforcement.
Moreover, law enforcement agencies across several US cities use gunshot detection technology to determine a shooting location. However, with silencers, these devices cannot pick them up.
Above all, those who manufacture silencers incorporate other features in addition to their muffling ability.
For instance, criminals can reduce the muzzle flash that the firearms produce, thereby reducing environmental disturbances and disguising their location. They can also reduce the recoil and muzzle flip and shoot quickly and accurately.
If the states remove the existing firearm silencer regulations, it can be disastrous.
Doing away with the rules governing the purchase and use of silencers would allow individuals to buy them without background verification.
Moreover, silencers will quickly make their way into illegal markets where they would be available easily through straw purchases via gun dealers.
Federal Laws Effectively Balance the Regulation of Silencers
As per the National Firearms Act 1934, those who seek to purchase firearm silencers must submit a dedicated application form to the ATF and pay $200 as taxes.
Furthermore, they also need to go through a fingerprint-based background verification and state the reason for needing a silencer to the local law enforcement authorities.
These laws have successfully curbed the misuse of silencers, especially for crime.
Thus, the regulatory framework successfully strikes a balance in protecting public safety and allows law-abiding citizens to purchase silencers.
There is a wide range of hearing protection devices that hunters and recreational shooters can use, including sophisticated earpieces and hearing aids. So, they don’t necessarily need silencers.
These devices are equally effective, if not more, than silencers when it comes to noise reduction.
While silencers reduce noise levels by 20 to 35 decibels, hearing aids and earpieces can reduce them by 20 to 37 decibels.
The regulation of silencers is mainly on a per-state basis. So, this means that you need to pay $200 in tax for each silencer that you buy and reside in a state where it is legal.
Also, it would help if you got each silencer registered under the National Firearms Act Branch of the BATFE. Moreover, individuals, corporations, trusts, and other entities can legally buy and own firearm silencers across 38 states.
However, as a firearms dealer, you have additional states where you can own silencers.
If you don’t live in a state where owning a silencer is legal, you can do any of the following:
- You can write a letter to the state senator or representative asking them to legalize the use of silencers.
- You can try moving to a state where buying and owning silencers is legal.
- You can also purchase a second house in any silencer-friendly state and qualify for dual residency.
However, it is illegal to manufacture silencers in states where they are not legal. It is also illegal to travel to another silencer-friendly state to purchase one that you can take back to your home state.
Moreover, if you are a felon or have been convicted and don’t have the right to possess firearms, you can also not buy or own a silencer.
Buying a firearm silencer isn’t complicated. However, the first thing you must do when purchasing is to determine whether owning a silencer is legal in the state where you reside.
That is, you must know the silencer laws that apply to your state.
Once you know the laws governing the purchase and use of silencers in your state, you can then buy them. For this, you will need some paperwork that complies with the Federal laws.
There are three ways to buy a silencer, including in the name of a trust or corporation or as an individual. Besides this, you can also buy a suppressor online or make one independently.
The important to remember is that each method of purchasing a silencer has different guidelines with which you need to comply.
So, when buying a suppressor, make sure that you know what those guidelines are, and stick to them.
Different states across the United States have other laws that govern the possession of firearm silencers.
In states where owning a silencer is illegal, the penalties may include fines of up to $10,000, six years of imprisonment, or both. Owning a firearm silencer in those states where it is illegal is a felony.
However, when it comes to sport or other recreational activities such as hunting, the use of silencers is legal in over 34 states across the United States. While hunting, suppressors can reduce the noise that guns produce and the disturbance gunshots cause to others in the vicinity.
However, critics claim that silencers have only led to a rise in poaching and other such illegal activities.
In states where silencers are illegal, getting caught with a homemade one can lead to two to three years of imprisonment, a $10,000 fine, or in some cases, both, depending on the situation.
Silencers come under the Title II classification of firearms, including short barrel rifles or shotguns, machine guns, AOWs, and other destructive weapons or devices.
Possessing silencers in states where they are illegal can lead to fines and, in some cases, even imprisonment. So, when buying a silencer, make sure that it is legal to own one in the state where you reside.
If you are caught with a silencer in a state where it is illegal, you can use some common defenses. For instance, you can state that it wasn’t a silencer or that the police conducted an unlawful search.
The Fourth Amendment governs the latter to the US Constitution, which lets you be free from unreasonable searches or seizures.
Similarly, another common defense that you can come up with if you are caught illegally possessing a silencer is stating a false accusation.
It’s common for jealous and angry people to accuse those who have hurt them to exact revenge falsely. So, it is a perfectly valid defense.
While silencers significantly reduce the amount of noise produced by a firearm, they don’t completely silence them.
Also, while silencers are legal in most states across the United States, some states prohibit their use. However, they are working towards legalizing them.
Silencers are great devices that help prevent loss of hearing due to the loud sound of gunshots. However, you must be aware of the laws that govern their use across different states.
So, when you buy a silencer for hunting or another purpose, don’t forget to note the rules governing their use depending on the state where you live.