So You Want to Buy a Can: The Intricacies of Suppressor Ownership

By Will Dabbs, MD
Posted in #Gear
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So You Want to Buy a Can:
The Intricacies of Suppressor Ownership

August 21st, 2022

5 minute read

Little will set one apart as a gun nerd of distinction faster than hanging a sound suppressor onto the snout of your favorite firearm. A suppressor makes you a more neighborly shooter, enhances accuracy and looks just sexy cool. Obtaining one of these delightful contrivances can seem a daunting task, however.

suppressor ownership
Owning a suppressor is easier than you might think. But, there are still many regulations that you need to understand to own one legally.

Sound suppressor ownership is governed by the National Firearms Act of 1934. In 1934, Franklin Roosevelt was President and Adolf Hitler was just some rabble rousing nobody with weird facial hair. However, the rules laid down in 1934 drive everything about sound suppressor ownership today. Like most things involving the government, the process is not hard. It is simply tedious.

Where to Start

Sound suppressors are currently legal to own in 42 of the 50 states. The holdouts are the usual suspects of freedom-averse locales. The offenders are New Jersey, California, Illinois, Delaware, Hawaii, Rhode Island, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts and New York. Stay strong, my brothers.

suppressed Springfield pistol
It’s easy to get carried away with this stuff. Once you get accustomed to shooting quiet guns like this suppressed XD-M Elite Tactical OSP 9mm, you’ll never want to go back.

For the rest of us, to buy a suppressor from a dealer you need only be a resident of the U.S., be legally able to purchase a firearm, be able to pass a BATF background check and be 21 years old.

Decisions, Decisions…

There are three ways to own a suppressor in America. You can transfer the can to yourself as an individual, or you can form a trust and move the suppressor to that entity. Owning the item as an individual is a little quicker and a little cheaper. Forming a trust lets you share the suppressor among the various members of the trust, and that is no small thing. Each member of the trust must be fingerprinted and submit the requisite forms. However, you can add or remove people to and from the trust later.

Springfield M1A with Silent Legion Suppressor
Any firearm with a threaded barrel is improved by the addition of a sound suppressor. This Springfield Armory SOCOM16 is awesome, and this Silent Legion suppressor makes it all the more so.

You can also register the suppressor to a corporation, but that has its own complications. The upside is that each officer in the corporation has access to the can. However, if the corporation dissolves, the suppressor then requires another taxed transfer.

rifle with sound suppressors
A rifle like this 5.56mm Springfield Armory SAINT rifle can serve as a fantastic foundation for a wide range of suppressors.

Previously you had to get the permission of your local Chief Law Enforcement Officer to do the transfer. That’s not required anymore, but you do have to send that person a copy of the forms to notify them you are acquiring this item. It’s still a bit of a hassle but not nearly so much as was previously the case.

A Class III firearms dealer is licensed to move NFA items like suppressors between states without paying the transfer tax. You can start at the local Class III dealer or find the can you want online. Buying the suppressor is the easy part.

Once you buy the can, you fill out two BATFE Form 4’s along with two Form 5330.20’s. These forms are available from the BATFE website. Each Form 4 requires a passport photo, but that’s nothing special. I shoot a selfie on my phone and email it to Walgreens for processing. Use tape, not staples, to hold the photo in place.

Springfield XD-M Elite with Suppressors
Pistol cans for centerfire handguns like this XD-M Elite 9mm typically include a Linear Inertial Decoupler for reliability.

Your dealer will walk you through the technical information about the suppressor to put on the form. You also need to obtain two standard FBI fingerprint cards. Your local sheriff or police department will do these for you. That’s a great opportunity to see what the inside of a jail looks like.

Once all that stuff is done you drop everything in an envelope along with a check for $200 and mail it to the BATFE. The wait will seem interminable. Ours is an instant gratification society, and that most definitely does not apply to this process. I’m not kidding. Plan on nine months to a year for traditional processing.

The Better Mousetrap

The indomitable engine that is capitalism drives the free world forward, and the Silencer Shop has made amazing strides at streamlining this process. Their website walks you through the details. They even have a smartphone app that lets you input your information from home.

Three stamp BATFE gun
You can get carried away with this stuff. This beast actually requires three separate tax stamps.

The most extraordinary aspect of the Silencer Shop solution is a series of kiosks set up in gun shops across the country. Their website will help you find one. Using these kiosks, you can obtain your own fingerprints and download a passport photo you shoot with your phone. They sell just about every sort of sound suppressor imaginable, all at excellent prices.

The Silencer Shop website also maintains an up-to-date wait time tracker that will let you know how long approvals for various forms are taking. You can pay the transfer tax and set up an NFA trust through their website as well. Whether you are buying your first can or your 30th (no kidding, I know a guy who is addicted to these things), the Silencer Shop makes the process as painless as possible.

Silencer Shop kiosks
Silencer Shop has these innovative kiosks in gun shops around the country that make the process of acquiring a suppressor much simpler. Image: @silencershop

Ruminations

If you can legally buy a gun, you most likely can legally own a sound suppressor. It just takes a little extra effort, a spare $200 and a whole lot of patience. The end result, however, will make you a gun nerd of distinction.

Editor’s Note: Be sure to check out The Armory Life Forum, where you can comment about our daily articles, as well as just talk guns and gear. Click the “Go To Forum Thread” link below to jump in!

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Springfield Armory® recommends you seek qualified and competent training from a certified instructor prior to handling any firearm and be sure to read your owner’s manual. These articles and videos are considered to be suggestions and not recommendations from Springfield Armory. The views and opinions expressed on this website are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Springfield Armory.

Product prices mentioned in articles and videos are current as of the date of publication.

Will Dabbs, MD

Will Dabbs, MD

Will was raised in the Mississippi Delta and has a degree in Mechanical Engineering. After eight years flying Army helicopters, he left the military as a Major to attend medical school. Will operates an Urgent Care clinic in his small Southern town and works as the plant physician for the local Winchester ammunition plant. He is married to his high school sweetheart, has three adult children, and has written for the gun press for a quarter century.

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