One of the most common concerns among gun owners, especially those who are switching to more powerful and thus load rounds, is whether they’ll be able to legally procure a silencer to protect their hearing. It’s more than just a great question, because using a suppressor, sometimes called a “silencer,” is the only safe way to protect hearing from supersonic noise.
There’s no quick answer, so let’s take a look at the nuances of suppressor laws.
The Basic Legal Framework
Suppressors fall under the National Firearms Act of 1934, which covers a wide range of guns and accessories. According to this legislation, a suppressor purchase requires a $200 tax. Additionally, a buyer must submit to a months-long process of registration with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Further, according to the Gun Control Act of 1968, the buyer must fill out questions on the federal Form 4473. These forms are retained by the dealer, who then contacts the Federal Bureau of Investigation to initiate a background check.
Part of the application process is submitting your fingerprints. At this stage, people with felony convictions, misdemeanors for domestic violence, dishonorable military discharges or who are illegal aliens will not be able to purchase a silencer. Those who have the same name as a person on such a list might have to wait a long time for their status to be cleared.
In general, however, it takes anything from 20 minutes to several days to complete a background check, and it is the last step in the process at the federal level.
Thankfully, state laws generally defer to federal laws on suppressors. As long as the federal guidelines have been followed, most states do not impose any further laws or restrictions.
There are, of course, exceptions. Suppressors are not legal in Hawaii, California, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. They are completely legal for any otherwise legal purpose in every other of the 42 states, except for hunting in Connecticut and Vermont.
That said, the number of states that allow suppressors for hunting has grown in recent years, and many states that have outlawed suppressors entirely are under immense pressure to update their laws.
The Hearing Protection Act
Congress is considering the Hearing Protection Act, which will remove suppressors from the National Firearms Act, meaning the $200 tax and months-long registration process with the federal government will no longer be required. However, it unfortunately would not change the need for filling out the Form 4473 questionnaire or submitting to a background check. Nor would it preempt state laws banning suppressors.
Ultimately, this law—which has a great chance of succeeding, as it has somewhat more bipartisan support than most gun legislation—would still make suppressors cheaper and easier to acquire.
The Bottom Line
In short, those who have not committed crimes that would bar them from purchasing silencers, and those who do not live in the states of Hawaii, California, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Rhode Island and Massachusetts may legally purchase a suppressor.