Suppressors are amazing firearm accessories. They make shooting safer and more comfortable by reducing the need for hearing protection. Firing a suppressed rifle or pistol is far more enjoyable for this reason alone. Suppressors may even improve the accuracy of your firearm. But how do you legally buy one? You’ve probably heard about all the steps required when it comes to dealing with the ATF and their paperwork. This guide breaks down 12 steps required to legally buy and own a suppressor:
- Research and choose your future suppressor.
- Decide whether to file paperwork as an individual, trust, or corporation.
- Purchase your suppressor and pay your dealer.
- Fill out ATF Form 4.
- Fill out ATF Form 23.
- Have 2″ x 2″ passport photos taken.
- Fill out two FD-258 fingerprint cards.
- Double-check your application for errors. Now triple-check it.
- Submit the required paperwork to your Chief Law Enforcement Officer.
- Submit the required paperwork, fingerprints, and photos to the ATF.
- Wait to receive your $200 NFA tax stamp.
- Take your suppressor home!
Step 1: Pick Your Future Suppressor
Whether shopping online or at a local gun store, you’ll need to pick out the suppressor you want before you file any paperwork. The paperwork you’ll file needs to list your suppressor’s manufacturer, model (if applicable), serial number, and dimensions. Take your time. Once you pick your suppressor and file the paperwork to own, you won’t be able to change your mind. Consider all the following before picking a silencer:
- What caliber(s) or weapon(s) are you suppressing?
- How much sound reduction does your suppressor offer?
- What do customer reviews say about life expectancy, accuracy?
You can even take your firearm to a local range and rent a suppressor. Even if the rental isn’t the model you’re considering buying, using a suppressor before purchasing one will give you valuable feedback. You’ll get a feel for the noise, recoil, and function of a silencer and test-firing might give you some questions and attributes to consider when you buy your own.
Step 2: Decide How to File Paperwork
There are three ways to file the paperwork for your suppressor:
- As an individual
- As a trust
- As a corporation
Filing as an Individual
Filing Form 4 as an individual means that only you, the original purchaser, may legally possess, own, and shoot your suppressor. Handing your weapon off to your buddy at the range would be illegal.
Filing as a Trust
Most experts agree that filing Form 4 as a trust provides the most benefits. You may add other individuals to the trust, which allows them to legally possess and shoot your suppressor. Filing with a trust once provided additional benefits over filing as an individual: Before the ATF enacted a set of regulations called “41F” on July 13th, 2016, trustees listed on the NFA trust for a suppressor did not have to send in photographs or fingerprints for a background check. Since 41F regulations were passed, all trustees must now submit fingerprints and photos with Form 5320.23, which we’ll talk about later. Skip to the bottom of this guide for other frequently asked questions and answers about NFA gun trusts.
Filing as a Corporation
Filing a corporation provides no distinct advantages over filing as a trust or individual. If your corporation were to cease to exist, you wouldn’t be legally allowed to own your suppressor even though it may still be in your physical possession. We recommend against it.
Step 3: Purchase Your Suppressor
Once you’ve decided whether to file as an individual or trust, it’s time to purchase your suppressor. You’ll be paying your online dealer or in-person FFL before filing any paperwork. Once you buy your suppressor, you can’t take it home. It’ll have to stay in your dealer’s inventory until they receive your NFA tax stamp from the ATF. Getting that coveted $200 stamp (more on that later) means filing the paperwork.
Step 4: Fill out ATF Form 4 (Three Times)
ATF Form 4 is the Application for Tax Paid Transfer Registration of a Firearm. We recommend filling out the form using this link from the ATF. You’ll be filling out the form three times. Two copies of the form will go to the ATF. They will return one of the two copies to you once the application is processed. The third copy goes to your local Chief Law Enforcement Officer (CLEO). Here’s how to fill the form out section by section:
Form 4: Section 1 to Section 3
1. Type of Transfer
Select the $200 option for the NFA tax stamp. The $5 option is for purchasing an AOW (Any Other Weapon).
2a. Transferee’s Full Legal Name and Address
If filing as a Trust, fill out the trust’s name, not your own name! The trust’s address will likely be your home address. If you’re filing as an individual, list your own name and home address.
List the county or parish where your trust or home address resides.
3a. Transferor’s Full Legal Name and Address
Fill out the address of your dealer. This must be the name and address listed on their Federal Firearms License (FFL).
3b. E-mail Address
The FFL’s email address is optional. It’s best to leave it blank if it’s not required information. Optional information that’s listed incorrectly could result in your Form 4 being denied.
Simple, enter your FFL’s phone number.
3d. If Applicable: Decedent’s Name, Address, and Date of Birth
Leave this empty. This only applies to transferring an NFA item from a deceased person’s estate.
3e. Number, Street, City, State and ZIP Code of Resident (or Firearms Business Premises) If Different from Item 3a.
Only fill this out if your FFL does business from an address that is not listed on their FFL.
Form 4: Section 4
Box 4a. Name and Address of Maker Manufacturer or Importer
Fill out the address and name of the suppressor’s manufacturer. Do not accidentally fill this in with the name of your FFL. It happens.
Box 4b. Type of Firearm
Do not write “suppressor”! The ATF will deny your Form 4. You must describe your suppressor as a “Silencer” in this field.
Box 4c. Caliber or Gauge
Write the caliber advertised on the suppressor. If your suppressor’s caliber describes something like “5.56 NATO”, “300 Blackout”, or “6.5 Creedmoor”, leave those words and acronyms out. Only include the physical diameter, such as “5.56mm”, “.30 Cal”, or “6.5mm”. If your suppressor is for multiple calibers, only list one of them in this field.
Box 4d. Model
List the model description advertised on your suppressor.
Box 4e. Barrel Length
Leave this blank.
Box 4f. Overall Length
List the overall length of your suppressor.
Box 4g. Overall Length
List the serial number engraved on the suppressor.
Box 4h. Additional Description or Data Appearing on Firearm
This doesn’t apply to suppressors, and usually only pertains to NFA guns that have additional technical specifications or model information. Leave this field blank.
Form 4: Section 5 to Section 11
5. Transferee’s Federal Firearms License
Leave this blank unless you’re an FFL filing as an individual. If you are an FFL and you’re using a gun trust, you would still leave this field blank since the trust is the transferee, not you.
6. Transferee’s Special (Occupational) Tax Status
Same rules apply as section 5 above. Leave this blank unless you’re an FFL filing as an individual.
7. Transferor’s Federal Firearms License
Enter your dealer’s FFL license number here.
8a. Employer Identification Number
Enter the FFL’s EIN used for filing taxes.
Enter the FFL’s class, which is most likely “03”.
9. Signature of Transferor
This field must be signed by your suppressor dealer.
10. Name and Title of Authorized Official
Your dealer must fill out his or her personal name and title. They should not list their business name.
The dealer should enter the date he or she signed the Form 4.
Form 4: Section 12 to Section 13
12. Law Enforcement Notification
In the left-most field, enter the department name of your local chief law enforcement officer (CLEO). In the right-most field, enter the name of the CLEO and his or her title. Underneath, enter the address of the CLEO’s department.
13. Transferee Necessity Statement
If filing as a trust, enter the name of your trust on the line marked (Name and Title of Transferee). “All Lawful Purposes” is a simple, generic way to acceptably describe the purpose of your suppressor purchase.
Form 4: Section 14 to Section 20
DO NOT FILL SECTIONS 14 TO 20, “TRANSFEREE QUESTIONS”, IF YOU ARE FILING AS A TRUST!
DO NOT ATTACH YOUR PASSPORT PHOTO IF YOU ARE FILING AS A TRUST!
Only fill this section out and only apply a 2″ x 2″ passport photo to section 15 if you’re filing Form 4 as an individual. If you’re filing as a trust, you’ll be filling out Form 5320.23 in the next section. It’s commonly called “Form 23”.
If you answer “yes” to any of the questions listed in section 14a to 14h, your application will likely be rejected. If you are filing as an individual, answer the questions honestly and enter the personal information requested: Ethnicity, race, county of citizenship, state of birth, country of birth, and status as a citizen or alien.
Form 4: Section 21 to Section 23
This is the last section of ATF Form 4.
Read the Certification section. If you’re filing as a trust, sign under Signature of Transferee as “[your name] as Trustee”. Do not sign with the name of the trust itself. Enter the Date appropriately.
21. Number of Responsible Persons
Enter the number of trustees that are to be included as authorized users of your new suppressor, including yourself. Your trust doesn’t require other trustees. You can be the sole settler and the only trustee and if you are, enter “1”. If you wish to have other people — friends, family — use your suppressor, their names must be entered in section 22.
22. Names of Responsible Persons
Enter your first, middle, and last name. If there are other trustees who will use your suppressor, enter their names in the same manner.
23. Method of Payment
Enter the payment information for your $200 tax stamp. Be sure to write legibly. If you’re paying with a debit or credit card and the ATF can’t read the card numbers, your application will be rejected. Be sure to appropriately sign with your name and date appropriately.
Step 5: Fill out ATF Form 23 (Twice Per Person)
ONLY PERFORM STEP 5 IF YOU’RE FILING AS A TRUST.
EVERY TRUSTEE MUST FILL OUT FORM 23 TWICE.
If you’re filing as a trust, Form 23, the National Firearms Act (NFA) Responsible Person Questionnaire replaces sections 14 to 20 on Form 4. One copy of Form 23 will be provided to the ATF, and one copy will be provided to your CLEO. Only the Form 23 labelled “ATF Copy” needs to include your passport photo and copy of fingerprints. More on that is described below.
Form 23: Section 1 to Section 3
1. Check the appropriate box to indicate with which ATF form this questionnare will be submitted.
Simple, we’re submitting Form 23 with Form 4, so check the middle box.
2. Full Legal Name and Address of Applicant or Transferee
Remember, the transferee is your trust unless you’re filing as an individual. Since you’re filing as a trust, list the trust’s name and address.
3a. Full Legal Name and Home Address of Responsible Person
Here you’ll enter your personal name and home address. Be sure to include your middle name. If you do not have a middle name, enter “NMN” between your first and last name. This means “no middle name”. It shows the ATF you didn’t accidentally exclude your middle name.
Enter your telephone number.
3c. E-mail address
This is optional, so leave it blank.
3d. Other Names used
Enter any other names or aliases you’ve used, including any maiden names.
You’ll need to include two 2″ x 2″ passport-type photographs with your application. We cover that in step 6.
Form 23: Section 4 to Section 6
4a. Type of Firearm
The suppressor must be described as a “Silencer”. You cannot list anything else here.
4b. Name and Address of Maker, Manufacturer and/or Importer
List the name and address of your suppressor’s manufacturer. Be sure not to accidentally enter the name and address of your dealer.
4c. Firearm Model
List the model of the suppressor.
4d. Caliber or Gauge
Again, list the caliber of the suppressor. If it is compatible with various calibers, only list one. Don’t include words like “Blackout” or “Creedmoor”. Only list the claiber, like “.30 Cal” or “6.5mm”.
4e. Firearm Serial Number
List the serial number engraved on your suppressor.
5. Social Security Number
Enter your social security number. Be sure to include your date of birth where it is requested, too.
Check the box to describe whether you’re hispanic or latino, or not.
Check the box that appropriatel describes your race.
Form 23: Section 7
7. Law Enforcement Notification
Fill this section exactly as you’ve done on Form 4: Enter the department name of your CLEO, and enter his or her name and title. Immediately below, enter the department’s address.
Form 23: Section 8
This is the last section of Form 23.
8a to 8h. Yes/No Questions
Answer the questions truthfully. If you answer yes to any of the questions listed in 8a to 8h, your application may be rejected.
9a. Country of Citizenship
Check the box describing whether you’re a citizen of the United or States or another country, or both.
9b to 9c. State of Birth and Country of Birth
Simple, fill out your state and country of birth.
9d to 11. Citizenship Questions
Answer the questions truthfully.
Certification and Signature
Read this section and sign with your name (not the trust’s name). Be sure to enter the date appropriately.
Step 6: Take One Passport Photo (One Per Person)
EVERY TRUSTEE MUST ATTACH A PHOTO TO THEIR ATF COPY OF FORM 23.
You’ll need to print and attach passport-type photo to the ATF Copy of Form 23. The photo must be less than one year old. The photo must measure 2″ x 2″. You don’t need a professional photo taken. A simple “selfie” taken with a smartphone will suffice. You can’t wear glasses or a hat in the photo. The background should be a solid light or white color.
Step 7: Have Fingerprints Taken with Form FD-258 (Twice Per Person)
EVERY TRUSTEE MUST HAVE TWO FD-258 CARDS ATTACHED TO THEIR ATF COPY OF FORM 23.
You do not need a law enforcement officer or agency to take your fingerprints.
But it is recommended. If your prints aren’t legible, your application will be rejected. Taking traditional inked fingerprints can be difficult, so we recommend you bite the $5 to $15 bullet and call your local police department to schedule a time to have your prints taken.
You’ll need to have your fingerprints recorded on a form provided by the FBI, Form FD-258. It’s a generic fingerprint card that you can download directly from the Bureau here. Most police departments keep a stock of these fingerprint cards in their office, but it’s safest to download the form from the FBI and print two copies for yourself. This ensures the form is up to date.
You must have (2) copies of fingerprints taken. That means having two FD-258s filled out by you and the police officer or agent who records the fingerprints. Both copies of ATF Form 23 you filled out in step 5 must be submitted to the ATF with a fingerprint card each.
These generic fingerprint cards have fields that may not be required for your suppressor background check. However, some fields are required. The required fields include:
- Signature of Person Fingerprinted
- Residence of Person Fingerprinted
- Signature of Official Taking Fingerprints
- Reason Fingerprinted
- Social Security Number
- Eye Color
- Hair Color
- Date of Birth
- Place of Birth
All other fields should be left blank. Use the following characters for your attribute fields.
- Male: “M”
- Female: “F”
- White, Spanish, or Central or South American: “W”
- Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Samoan, Pacific Islander, or Other Asian: “A”
- Black: “B”
- American Indian, Eskimo, or Alaskan Native: “I”
- Undeterminable Race: “U”
- Use numbers only
- Describe weight in pounds
- Do not include “LB” or “lbs”
- Use numbers only
- Describe height as feet and inches
- Five feet, nine inches should be written as “509”
- Five feet, eleven inches should be written as “511”
- Black: “BLK”
- Blue: “BLU”
- Brown: “BRO”
- Gray: “GRY”
- Green: “GRN”
- Hazel: “HAZ”
- Maroon: “MAR”
- Bald: “BLD”
- Black: “BLK”
- Blonde: “BLN”
- Blue: “BLU”
- Brown: “BRO”
- Green: “GRN”
- Gray: “GRY”
- Orange: “ONG”
- Purple: “PLE”
- Pink: “PNK”
- Red: “RED”
- Sandy: “SDY”
- White: “WHI”
Date of Birth
Place of Birth
- If born in the US, write the state of birth
- If born outside the US, write the country of birth
- Do not abbreviate state or country, whichever is applicable
Signature of Official Taking Fingerprints
The Signature of Official Taking Fingerprints field does not mean an “official” of any kind needs to take your prints. You can legally perform this step yourself but again, we recommend you have an LEO record your prints so your application doesn’t get rejected. If you are taking your own prints, leave this field blank. Do not sign this line yourself, and do not have a friend sign it for any reason.
O R I (Originating Agency Identifier)
This is a unique “address” used internally by various agencies like the FBI and ATF. This field must be filled out with the following ORI:
Step 8: Triple-Check All Your Paperwork
If a single field on any copies of Form 4, Form 23, or Form FD-258 is not filled out, is filled out illegibly, or was filled out incorrectly, the ATF will dump your entire application and you’ll have to start over. You also get put into the back of the line, meaning when you re-file your corrected application, the clock resets. If filing as a trust, make sure your name is written where it should be. Make sure your trust’s name is where it should be. Make sure you didn’t accidentally fill out a name field with the trust’s information, and vice versa. Double-check serial numbers, model numbers, phone numbers, birth dates, middle names (or “NMN” if no middle no name), and social security numbers. If you included other trustees on your application, double-check their info, including their Form 23s, fingerprints, and photos. Lastly, double-check your credit or debit card number if you’re not paying by check or money order. Then triple-check your work.
Step 9: Mail or Take This Paperwork to The CLEO
Finally! You’re all set to submit. The following paperwork needs to go to the Local Chief Law Enforcement Officer in your area:
- “CLEO Copy” of ATF Form 4.
- “CLEO Copy” of ATF Form 23.
- DO NOT include a fingerprint card.
- DO NOT include a passport photo.
Step 10: Mail This Paperwork to The ATF
DO NOT STAPLE ANY PAPERWORK. USE PAPER CLIPS TO SECURE PHOTOS AND FINGERPRINTS.
If you staple any papers together, the ATF may reject your application. Mail these documents to the ATF:
- “ATF Copy” of ATF Form 4.
- “ATF Copy 2 – To Be Returned to Registrant” of ATF Form 4.
- “ATF Copy” of Form 23 for every trustee.
- One notarized copy of your gun trust.
- Both copies of FD-258 fingerprint cards paper-clipped to Form 23 for each trustee.
- One 2″ x 2″ passport photo paper-clipped to Form 23 for each trustee.
The mailing address for the ATF’s Silencer Applications is:
National Firearms Act Division
Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
P.O. Box 5015
Portland, OR 97208-5015
We don’t recommend folding any papers, photos, or fingerprint cards. Mail your application using a large padded mailer to be safe.
Step 11: Wait Anxiously For That Tax Stamp
Now comes the waiting game. Although you spent hours making sure your paperwork, photo, and fingerprints were meticulously recorded and wholly accurate, the ATF will still take months to process your application. The ATF is currently taking approximately 250 to 370 days to process ATF Form 4. That translates into eight months to just over one year.
See why it’s so important to triple-check your application? You don’t want to turn a year-long process into a two-year process.
Step 12: Once Approved, Take Your Suppressor Home!
Finally, after submitting all that paperwork and waiting anxiously for months, your application for owning a suppressor is approved by the ATF! Your suppressor’s dealer will call or email you. After the ATF approves your application, they mail that second ATF Copy of Form 4 to your dealer with that juicy $200 NFA tax stamp attached.
With your stamp in-hand you can finally bring your suppressor home, thread it on your muzzle, and start enjoying sending rounds downrange without having to wear a ton of bulky ear pro.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a gun or suppressor trust?
A trust is just a management tool created on paper, notarized, and filed in your state. A trust is legally allowed to take ownership of physical property. Trusts can be made for real estate, cars, money, any personal possessions. That includes firearms and suppressors. Trusts can also be used to protect your guns. Another trustee can take temporary ownership of your firearms and suppressors if ever needed.
Can I use one trust for multiple suppressors?
Yes. You can add and remove assets from a trust, including additional suppressor purchases. You can also add or remove trustees from the trust at any time. If you want to add a trustee to the gun trust, that person will need to file Form 23 with the ATF, and have two fingerprint cards and a single passport photo taken as described above.
How do I make a gun trust for my suppressor?
You can make a gun trust online by simply purchasing a legal service through various suppressor dealers. Silencer Shop offers a very user-friendly, simple, and affordable trust-making service for $130. If you prefer to handle business in person, any competent attorney can create your trust. It’s recommended you stick with an experienced service, because trusts are written uniquely for every individual and type of property or assets being held in the trust. National Gun Trusts is another popular and well-rated gun trust service that starts at $60.
Where are suppressors legal?
Suppressors are legal in the following states: AL, AK, AZ, AR, CO, CT, FL, GA, IA (as of 3/31/16), ID, IN, KS, KY, LA, ME, MD, MI, MS, MO, MT, NE, NV, NH, NM, NC, ND, OH, OK, OR, PA, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, WA, WV, WI, AND WY
Where are suppressors illegal?
The following states have outlawed suppressors: California, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
How long will my suppressor application take?
Form 4 applications filed with the ATF take approximately eight months to one year to process.
How much does a suppressor application cost?
You’ll need to pay a $200 fee for the NFA tax stamp, though other services — like fingerprinting and paying to have your passport photo taken — will add to the total cost. Those services are usually cheap, about $5 to $20 each. You’ll also need to pay for mailing your application to the ATF, preferably using a large padded mailer.