You should not have to almost sell your soul to the federal government to own a sound suppressor.
In the first two parts of the series, I wrote of how we arrived at the current situation, historically, and what exists today, in terms of the technology and legal system, for individuals to make their own silencers utilizing the ATF Form 1.
Because of the tremendous bureaucratic and monetary infringements imposed by the National Firearms Act (NFA), very few form 1’s (required to legally make your own silencer, short barreled rifle or shotgun) were processed as late as 1990.
In the year 1990, only thirty years ago, a total of 399 Form 1’s were processed by the ATF.
In 2000, the annual number had more than tripled, to 1,334.
In 2010, the annual number had continued exponential growth to 5,169.
By 2013, it was almost doubled again, at 9,347.
In 2014, it had more than doubled again, to 22,380.
It took two more years, to 2016, to more than double again, to 49,985 Form 1s per year. That was the peak, so far. Record firearms sales in 2020 lead to the prediction over 50,000 Form 1’s will be processed this year. The figures for 2019 Form 1’s have not been released at this time, but should be out soon.
About 120 times as many Form 1s are being processed each year, as were being processed 30 years ago. Entire forums on the Internet trade information on what works and what doesn’t. Forums such as silencertalk.com are potent places for political organizing.
Analysis of the ATF figures show about 75% of the current Form 1s are for silencers. Most of the rest are for short barrelled rifles (SBR). SBR Form 1s have probably dropped off as pistol arm braces gained popularity.
The vast increase in the number of legal silencers is altering the political and judicial landscapes.
Such visible numbers are a sign of political and judicial strength. Second Amendment supporters have every logical argument to repeal the National Firearms Act. They do not have the political support in Congress to do so…yet.
The inclusion of silencers in the NFA may be the worst public health blunder made by the Federal Government. Tens of millions have been adversely affected.
Two million legal silencers are merely the start. There are about 100 million firearms owners who could benefit from owning inexpensive and effective silencers in the United States. Market saturation of silencers in the United States might top out in the area of 200 million.
Different silencer models meet different needs. The perfect silencer for your .22 rifle or pistol will not be the same as for your deer rifle, home defense gun, long range target gun, or sporting shotgun. There are over 450 million privately owned guns in the United States.
Growing knowledge and awareness of the political injustice of the National Firearms Act is creating political power. Numbers and knowledge combined make political power.
More and more gun owners have educated themselves and learned how ignorant of, and hostile to, many politicians are of fundamental Constitutional rights.
The good news? Many of those politicians can be educated.
Incremental movement to restore Second Amendment rights has been working for the carry of firearms (the “bear arms” part of the Second Amendment). It is working to soften and remove infringements on the “keep” part as it relates to silencers and size restrictions.
Consider a recent appellate court case in Florida.
A man was arrested for carrying a handgun concealed, without a permit, when an officer saw the grip of the handgun inadvertently exposed in a pocket. The officer did not have any other reason to stop or arrest the individual, except for the sight of the handgun grip.
The court ruled against the police, because concealed carry has become so common in Florida, the police had no reasonable suspicion a crime had been committed, merely by observing someone was carrying a concealed weapon.
It is no longer unusual to see someone firing a silencer on the range. It is legal to hunt with a silencer in 40 states. Todd Rathner of the National Firearms Act Freedom Alliance was instrumental in lobbying to remove legal burdens to hunt with firearms in several states.
Full Disclosure: I have known Todd Rathner for many years, and consider him a personal friend. He is a talented and extremely effective lobbyist. He has had enormous success in removing infringements on the ownership and carry of knives.
Only eight states now forbid silencer ownership. Silencers are becoming very popular in the 42 states where state law doesn’t infringe on your right to keep and bear the common firearm accessory.
Those states are shown on this map from the American Suppressor Association:
The states that infringe on your Second Amendment rights to own a silencer, are also the states that infringe on your Second Amendment rights to bear arms.
Those states are: California, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, New York, and Delaware. Maryland does not forbid the ownership of silencers, and Illinois was forced to create a shall issue concealed carry permit by court decision.
The intermediate goals to remove the NFA infringements on fundamental rights are:
Remove silencers from the NFA jurisdiction, and regulate them the same as rifles and shotguns. This simple reform would cause the current increase in legal silencers to appear as a minor uptick. The number of legal silencers would skyrocket into the tens of millions, making them as politically difficult to oppose as firearms, and making it likely they would be accepted as worthy of Constitutional protection by the Supreme Court.
Remove short barreled rifles and shotguns from the NFA, and regulate them the same as pistols. The effects would be similar to those for silencers.
Incremental steps to reach the above intermediate goals could include anything to ease the burdens of obtaining legal ownership, such as:
• Reduce or removed the cost of the tax stamp
• Remove the requirement for fingerprints
• Remove the requirement for a photograph
• Make a National Instant Background Check sufficient to comply with the NFA.
Incremental steps include reforming the draconian penalties for failure to pay a $200 tax. First offense should be a civil penalty, at most a misdemeanor.
Finally: Repeal the NFA.
In this article, we are considering silencers.
We are close to the point where there will be no reasonable suspicion for a law enforcement officer to demand a person prove the silencer he is using is legal, in most states. The assumption will be they are legal.
Once there are enough silencers in use, they will fall under the logic explained in the Florida example about concealed carry. They will be common enough, an officer will need more than mere possession of a silencer, to search, detain, or demand evidence of state permission. There is considerable precedence for this. Officers may not demand a drivers license, simply because you were driving a vehicle.
Second Amendment supporters are often looking for ways to effectively restore Second Amendment rights. It is not an easy task. Those who wish for a disarmed population have been eating away at Second Amendment rights for almost two hundred years. Second Amendment supporters have had the most success in restoring their rights by incrementally, both judicially and legislatively, removing the infringements which have been enacted into law.
Purchasing or legally making a firearms silencer is one of the most effective steps a Second Amendment support can take to undermine the National Firearms Act and incrementally restore Second Amendment rights. Second Amendment supporters are well on the way to removing the NFA through an unusual tool: Overwhelming compliance.
Making a legal silencer from an 80% kit is the cheapest and most convenient method to overwhelm the system with compliance.
There is no time limit on completing a Form 1 build. Once you have the Form 1, you can take your time in making your first silencer. .22 rimfire silencers are the easiest to build.
When I was in Panama, a friend showed me how to make an effective .22 silencer in 30 minutes, from scrap. It worked well with a single shot rifle.
The intersection of Second, First, and Fourth Amendment rights, along with the factors that have degraded the bureaucratic and monetary barriers to legal firearms ownership, have produced a superb opportunity for incremental restoration of Second Amendment rights.
In the vast majority of states, once silencers become common enough so they do not draw immediate attention at the range or in the field, we have the ingredients for victory.
At that point, a law enforcement officer will not have reasonable suspicion to inspect a silencer and to demand information to prove the silencer is legal and registered. Such demands would violate the First and Fourth Amendments.
An important part of this structure is a practice I have seen on a number of Youtube videos. The manufacturer information and serial number of the silencer pictured is covered. The information is there; it is simply not available to casual inspection or to the public. Removal of the cover is a search, requiring probable cause or a warrant. Do not grant permission for law enforcement to remove the cover.
Do not allow the public to see the manufacturing data or serial number on your silencer.
Allowing public perusal of such information is a serious breach of information security. It would not be good for your information to appear on another silencer, somewhere else, which might be involved in a crime. As silencers are so easy to make, it would be easy for the information to be placed on other silencers.
Reveal it only when legally required to do so. The completion of a Form 1 or a Form 4 with the ATF grants ATF agents the authority to require the tax stamp be produced upon demand. Keep a copy of the tax stamp available. Keep the original locked up in a safe place. A laminated copy of the tax stamp should be kept with the silencer at all times.
You do not need to allow ATF agents into your domicile to produce a tax stamp. They can wait outside while you produce the stamp, or you could keep a small copy in your wallet. I have not heard of ATF agents showing up at a residence to demand a tax stamp. Such demands are very rare, if they occur at all.
Another bit of activism would be to install and keep muzzle devices on as many of your firearms as is reasonably practical.
This helps normalize muzzle devices on firearms in the eyes of the public. This is a valid reason for fake suppressors.
There should be no reason for an ordinary law enforcement officer to ask for legal documentation for a silencer, unless they have reasonable suspicion to tie it to a crime other than mere possession.
When you purchase and/or make a legal silencer and use it in public settings, it helps to normalize the ownership and use of silencers.
Work with local groups to invite politicians and the media to “Suppressor days at the range”, where they can be educated about the benefits of silencers, the reality of silencers, they type of people who have and use silencers, and the ignorant stupidity of current silencer law.
Encourage manufacturers to produce most new firearms threaded at the muzzle for accessories, including silencers.
Such preparation at the factory is inexpensive, probably less than a dollar additional cost per firearm. This action is in process.
Firearms which are threaded at the muzzle are a substantial share of the market. The trend should be encouraged. It is difficult to see a disadvantage to most firearms (except, possibly, revolvers) having threaded muzzles. Shotgun choke tubes, for example, are already common.
Familiarize yourself with local and state laws, to prevent entanglement with local authorities. Some states make silencer possession illegal, unless the silencer is possessed in compliance with Federal law. In such cases, you may need to show the tax stamp to state and local enforcement officers.
Work with local groups to remove local legal barriers to silencer ownership and use.
It is extremely rare for officials to ask for tax stamps when silencers are being used in public settings. According to a perusal of online forums, the consensus is: use in a public setting carries with it the assumption the silencer is legal.
A tax stamp may be asked for when a silencer is discovered as part of an independent investigation, such as discovered during a traffic stop. A way to avoid this is to keep silencers in locked containers when traveling. Many lawyers recommend you never give consent for a search.
Most people give consent, almost automatically. It is a bad idea. If an officer asks: “Do you mind if I look around?” alarm bells should be going off in your head. The officer is asking permission to search. Practice politely saying: Officer, I do not give consent to a search.
I have been repeatedly told by officers that most people talk themselves into being arrested. Don’t make that mistake. Do not talk to the police, if you are subject to any kind of investigation. A traffic stop is an investigation.
Your First and Fourth Amendment rights help to protect your Second Amendment rights.
While merely anecdotal, I have heard of numerous incidents where local law enforcement officers have contacted the ATF about mere possession of silencers, short barreled rifles, or short barreled shotguns, only to be told the ATF is not interested unless there is another crime involved.
This is anecdotal. It indicates enforcement of mere possession of silencers may not be a high priority for the ATF.
At AmmoLand, we would like to hear personal stories of enforcement of silencer laws, both at state and federal levels. The response may give an indication of how often such prosecutions occur. There is no national database on these prosecutions. It appears they are very rare.
The data we have indicates silencers are seldom used in criminal acts.
Second Amendment supporters can look forward to the day when National Firearms Act tax stamps are curious relics of a bygone age, as are bills of sale for slaves.