Good afternoon everyone and welcome back to another Silencer Saturday and brought to you by Yankee Hill Machine. Last week we talked about the National Firearms Act (NFA) and why it kills design and manufacturing innovation in the firearms industry. From the consumer’s standpoint, the process to buy, transfer and own NFA items can be just as complex and daunting. So this week I thought we should take a simple, step-by-step approach to buying silencers and other NFA items in the United States. This may be a refresher to those of you who have recently purchased, but for those of you who are just starting this process, I hope to bring you a little bit of insight and guidance to make the journey easier. So let’s take a look at NFA 101 – buying a silencer.
Before we begin, a few points of order:
Earlier this week TFB reported on the fact that both Google and Facebook are using optical character recognition (OCR) to scan images for numbers imbedded in images. This process has been quietly indexing firearm serial numbers, making them searchable on the Internet. Although the process is not surprising, the results are an eye-opener. A quick review of the last two years of images posted to Silencer Saturday at revealed that many of the suppressors featured here have been scanned and indexed based on serial number along side keywords. No I’m not a tinfoil hat kind of guy; sometimes I obscure serial numbers in the images that I post, and sometimes I don’t. But the fact remains that we should all be reminded that what we post online is available for everyone to see forever. I’m not advocating for one process or another, but just be aware that your images posted to social media, that include guns and suppressors, are now being logged. We are discussing ways to use this indexing technique to the advantage of shooters and gun owners everywhere.
Last week’s edition featured one of my favorite platforms: the SIG Sauer MCX. The rifle was paired with a SIG SRD762QD Ti silencer and a brand new, just out of the box, SIG Romeo 8T optic. In a rush to get my Silencer Saturday pictures, I slapped on the optic – backwards – and headed out into the woods. I submit myself for digital caning punishment.
SILENCER SATURDAY #96: NFA Process 101 – How To Buy A Silencer
Note: I am not an expert nor an attorney and this guide is not providing you with any legal advice. When in doubt, consult your dealer or the ATF for assistance. Processes and rules change over time – make sure you are using the right forms and addresses when submitting your applications.
I. NFA Process – Research
TFB prides itself on being a resource for firearms owners around the world. And I’ve tried to carry this over to our weekly discussions on suppressors. By making you aware of a broad range of manufacturers and their models over the years, whether old or new, we’ve given you a starting point for your purchase decisions. Before you buy, read our reviews, check out the forums, ask questions and keep your real-world requirements in front of the latest-and-greatest features and you’ll be fine.
II. NFA Process – An Overview
But we really haven’t given you a step-by-step look how to buy a silencer since the passage of ATF Rule 41F. If you’re new to the game or have suppressed those regulatory memories, Rule 41F changed the process of buying NFA items, including the paperwork used surrounding trusts and entities. Prior to 2016 trust applications did not require fingerprints, photographs or background information: applicants only needed to provide a completed Form 4 and a $200 payment for the Tax Stamp. Whether you’re applying as an individual, LLC or trust, all responsible parties are now required to submit their personal information prior to approval.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, let’s start the process from the beginning.
III. NFA Process – Purchase And Transfer
Buying a suppressor is much like buying any other firearm. You can walk into a local gun store or shop online for the model you want, lay out a credit card or pay in cash and your purchase is made. The real difference comes in the actual transferring of the silencer itself. After the buying is done, rather than filling out an ATF Form 4473 that you would for a normal firearm, the ATF requires a transfer application to be completed. There are two types of transfer applications that are involved in non-government NFA transfers.
IV. NFA Process – ATF 5320.3 – Form 3 – Tax-Exempt “Dealer To Dealer” Transfers
The first type of transfer is a Form 3, which allows licensed entities to transfer a NFA firearm between other licensed entities. You as the buyer are rarely involved in the Form 3 process. If you purchase a silencer from a dealer out of state, that dealer will then ask you (or your dealer) for a copy of the FFL/SOT license in your state of residence. They will then complete a form ATF Form 3 and submit it for approval to transfer the item to your selected dealer. The approval process can take anywhere from a few days to a month depending on whether the submitting dealer uses paper forms which are mailed into the ATF, or the EFile system which are submitted electronically.
- To be clear you cannot directly purchase an NFA item out of state without first transferring the NFA firearm to a dealer in your state via the Form 3 process.
- Unless it’s absolutely necessary, make purchases from dealers utilizing the EFile system. The wait time difference is huge.
- An example of a Form 3 is shown below. (Actual Form 3 in PDF here)
- Buying a silencer from an out of state dealer may mean an additional transfer fee during the next step. Always contact your dealer prior to initiating a purchase and Form 3 transfer. In some cases your local dealer can get you the same price you see online, and may avoid additional transfer fees.
V. NFA Process – ATF 5320.4 – Form 4 Taxable Transfers
The second transfer application type for non-governmental transfers is an ATF Form 4. This application is used to transfer items between licensed entities and individuals, or between unlicensed individuals not involving a dealer. Each Form 4 transfer requires:
- A completed Form 4 Application – (Actual Form 4 in PDF here)
- A $200 tax payment (check, money order or credit card)
- Two completed fingerprint cards (Request some for free here)
- Two passport photos (yes, you can take/print your own)
- A completed Responsible Person Questionnaire – Form 5320.23 – for each responsible party (if you are applying as a trust or other legal entity).
Important Note: Many dealers will have the tools you need to complete forms, take photographs and roll fingerprints. There may be an additional fee involved with taking fingerprints and photographs. However, mobile apps can handle passport photos and many police departments will fingerprint you for free or for a small charge.
But it is also a good idea to know what information you’ll need to provide before the time comes.
ATF Form 4 – Page 1
ATF Form 4 – Page 2
ATF Form 4 – Page 3
There are three copies of the Form 4 included in the packet.
- Two copies are sent to the ATF (One of those copies will be sent back to your dealer upon approval for you to keep in a secure location)
- One copy you send as a notification to your Chief Law Enforcement Officer (CLEO) for your town/city/county/state.
- The footers for each section of the application tell you which copies go to which agency.
ATF Form 4 – Important Notes
- Make sure to read the instructions on pages four, five and six for explanations of each section and definitions for terms found within the application.
- Your dealer needs to sign block 9 (on page one of each of the three copies)
- You need to sign the CERTIFICATION section at the top of page three (on each of the three copies) and if you are using a credit card, the payment section sign in signature block in section 23.
- Electronic signatures (pre-printed fake handwriting) are no longer accepted by the ATF.
- Your Social Security Number is not required in block 16, however not including it will mean significant delays in your application process.
- Attach 2” X 2” photographs in section 15 onto the two copies sent to the ATF.
- Include two applicant (F-258 – blue line) signed fingerprint cards with your application.
- Yes, you can roll your own prints if necessary. It’s easy with an ink pad from Amazon and a YouTube video.
- CLEO Copy is only a notification. It does not require a signature or approval.
- Consider having a third part review your forms and documents before sending everything in.
Example FD-258 fingerprint card:
Responsible Person Questionnaire – Form 5320.23 (for trust and legal entity applicants)
What is the definition of a “responsible person”? Let’s check out the instructions from the Form 4:
- One copy (for each person) of the Responsible Person Questionnaire gets sent to the ATF along with the Form 4 application. This includes a photograph attached to section 3e and two fingerprint cards for each.
- One copy (for each person) of the Responsible Person Questionnaire gets sent to the CLEO of the the responsible party (RP) on the form which may or not be the same officer as the applicant, depending on where that RP lives.
VI. NFA Process – Mailing Your Forms
Great, you’re done with all your required paperwork and you are ready to ship everything to the ATF. Let’s go down the list to make sure everything is included.
- Two copies of the Form 4 (signatures!)
- Two photographs (attached to the photo sections)
- Two completed fingerprint cards (signatures!)
- $200 Payment (I suggest a debit/credit card for tracking purposes)
- Responsible Person Questionnaire one for each RP on your trust/entity
- Your trust/entity documents (if filing as a trust/entity)
Because the address is a P.O. Box, use the U.S. Postal Service to mail your forms. I suggest Priority Mail or better since tracking will be included. Keep your tracking number.
Form 4 Mailing Address:
National Firearms Act Division
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives,
P.O. Box 5015
Now you need to mail your CLEO copy of the Form 4. Some will suggest using mail with tracking information, but I have yet to hear of anyone being asked for proof of CLEO form delivery. In fact, you can just drop the forms off if it’s easier.
Remember, the CLEO copy is just a notification, not a certification.
VII. NFA Process – Other Application Options
Because the ATF EFile system is not currently available for Form 4 applications, all forms need to be submitted in paper form. However, some distributors/dealers provided streamlined systems for buyers. Here are a few options:
- Form 4 Generator – Silencer Shop
- Silencer Shop Kiosks – And Powered By Dealers – Using a Network of dealers and kiosks that scan your fingerprints, Silencer Shop has created an electronic filing system that stores your information for future use.
- Local Dealers – Advanced local dealers like Hansohn Brothers and Capital Armory have set up full-service electronic Form 4 systems for their customers.
The ATF EFile system should regain Form 4 Functionality in 2020, but there are no guarantees.
VIII. NFA Process: Wrap-Up
Follow the steps, read all the instructions, sign your forms and ask for help if you don’t understand part of the process. Believe me when I tell you that waiting is the most difficult part of the whole deal. Oh yea, and the whole “paying for a right to own a muffler or a short barrel” part is a bit annoying. But, tyranny aside, owning a silencer is really worth the inconvenience.
Be safe, have fun and we’ll see you here next week for another addition of TFB’s Silencer Saturday
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