Buying Registered Sound Suppressors in the U.S., by R.B.

This article is an after action report (AAR) of sorts on my experiences with buying registered NFA items with a $200 transfer tax, and to piggyback on the few entries in SurvivalBlog dealing with suppressors.  There are a few reasons to not buy a silencer.  Mainly that you lose a bit of your privacy by giving info to the ATF, but you do that whenever you fill out a Form 4473.  After much internal debate, I decided to go off of the deep end after reading an article here on  It dealt with problems in Argentina when the SHTF down there.  The author stated how having a suppressor would have been “handy” in some situations.  Coupled with my philosophy of “Buy it now, before its illegal”, I bought four suppressors.  Now my HK USP .45 sounds like this.  That being said, you really only need three suppressors.  I’ll explain that shortly.

When you set out to buy your suppressors, there are many things to keep in mind: caliber; subsonic ammo; metal composition; and most importantly, the threading.  And don’t forget the obvious: “Do I live in a Nanny State that tells me what I can and cannot own ?” (Some states have their own laws on suppressors and full auto guns.)

Caliber.  You want to stick to common calibers. Always!  You only want three calibers, and in this order: .22LR (pistol/rifle); .45 ACP (pistol); and .308 (rifle only). Why only three calibers of suppressors?  The reason is simple—a thread adapter opens up more calibers to you.  The .22 LR suppressor is good for all similar diameter bullets and smaller (like .17 HMR).  The .45 ACP is good for all .45 ACP to include all smaller pistol calibers.  And the .308 suppressor will be good for the smaller calibers such as .223, .270, and similar calibers such as 7.62, .30-06, and .300 Winchester Magnum.  Please check to see what your suppressor is rated for first, as well as check the threading (more on that later).  Lastly, bear in mind that there may be some loss in decibel reduction when firing a smaller bullet through a suppressor not normally used for that caliber: i.e. a 9mm through a .45 ACP suppressor might be louder than a suppressor specifically designed for a 9mm (not to mention that that round is [normally] supersonic).
Metal composition.  Most suppressors are made of aluminum, steel, or titanium.  Bear in mind that over time, your suppressor will lose some of its efficiency.  I think it’s negligible. 

Aluminum: By far the least expensive.  Suppressors made of aluminum are typically for your .22LRs and other pistol calibers.  These are lightweight and dissipate heat well.  The internal baffles are usually aluminum as well.  Being made of aluminum, rust is not a problem.  However, being made of aluminum, they damage more easily (i.e.: the threads might strip more easily, or it might get crushed by something heavy).  Moreover, being made of a cheaper metal, they will not last as long as those made with more durable materials.  I do not mean that to mean your suppressor will go bad on you after 10,000 rounds.  It’s just a less durable material.

Steel: Cost more than aluminum suppressors, but cheaper than titanium.  Very durable.  Typically for your rifle calibers from .223 on up.  These get hot!  As with all suppressors, exercise some caution in removing them by wearing a glove.  My steel suppressor was so hot after firing about 50 rounds of .223 I had to wait until it cooled off sufficiently enough because it was hot enough to melt plastic even after 15 minutes.  This meant I could not return it to my backpack.  One more thing, steel suppressors are heavy!  Put one of these on the end of your gun and it feels like an anchor is on it.  And don’t forget that steel rusts.

Titanium:  The most expensive.  Super light compared to the steel suppressors.  I do not own one but the one I held gave me the impression that it would hold less heat than its steel counterpart. Most durable material there is.  Will last the longest of the three materials.

*One note: make sure you screw the suppressor on tightly.  They have a tendency to come unscrewed as you shoot them.  If you have a suppressor that unscrews from either end, be careful.  The threaded end screwed onto the barrel may get stuck on due to heat expansion, making removing the item difficult since the screw on piece is still on the barrel after you have removed the rest of the suppressor.  My solution was to put blue Loctite on that end.  I’ve had no problem ever since.    

Cycling (ammo and the need for a piston):
–Pistol suppressors:  Some suppressors for pistols require a “piston” in order for the pistol to cycle.  The Gemtech Blackslide features such a device.  Otherwise, you may have to charge your pistol after every shot.  Make sure you look into the suppressor’s literature before you buy.  You’ll usually only have this problem with subsonic ammo, and not the high-powered stuff.

–Rifle suppressors: No need to worry about a piston, however, cycling with subsonic ammo will be a problem with semi-autos.  When I was experimenting with loads, some led to semi ejected rounds (in my AR-15) until the charge got low enough to where the bolt stayed close.  At this point, I had to manually eject each round.

Subsonic ammo
.  Contrary to Hollywood movies, regular (supersonic) ammo in a rifle makes a lot of noise.  The thing sounded about as suppressed as a banshee.  Subsonic ammo is what you want for your suppressor.  Subsonic .22 LR ammo is readily available.  For .22LR, if not marked sub-sonic, then ammo that states its fps is around 1,070fps will do fine, even though it’s a bit louder than subsonic.  [JWR Adds: Most “Target” grade .22 LR ammo is subsonic.]

Most .45 ACP is subsonic.  This is one reason you want your large caliber pistol suppressor to be in .45 ACP.  You ge t knockdown power in a pistol that transitions from “boom!” to just “thump”.  Unless you plan on firing any of those hot .45 ACP rounds, odds are that your .45 round will be subsonic. [JWR Adds: In contrast, most 9mm Parabellum and .40 S&W ammo can be supersonic, depending on the elevation. You have to pay more for special subsonic 9mm ammo.]

Adapters allow you to keep the number of suppressors you need low.  For $60 you can buy an adapter that will allow you to place a 5/8” x 24 TPI .308 suppressor on your ½” x 28 TPI AR-15.  The same goes for your .45 ACP pistol.  Buy large, and adapt down.  And remember, you cannot fire a .308 through a .223 suppressor!

  This is very important.  Pistols and rifles have different threads.  The most common threads are ½” x 28 TPI, ½” x 36 TPI, and 5/8” x 24 TPI.  Keep this info in mind if you wish to thread one of your bolt actions to get a flash hider put on it, and to use a suppressor on that same rifle.  Most .22LRs have the ½” x 28” TPI, to include .22LR pistols.  Large caliber rifles tend to have the 5/8” x 24 TPI.  A word of caution, be careful when buying a suppressor for a pistol/foreign pistol, or a foreign rifle (metric measurements)!  The threads get whacky for many of the barrels, and it’s here that you may be only able to get one suppressor for one type of pistol (i.e.: you want a suppressor for your FN FiveSeven).  The reason is that not all pistol barrels are the same diameter, whereas most rifles are threaded to the same specs regardless of the barrel diameter. 

Threaded suppressor or quick detach? 
Threaded suppressors of course require a threaded barrel.  Quick detach (QD) suppressors require a flash hider tailored to the suppressors quick detachment cut-out, or the flash hider’s thread.  Make sure that you do not buy a QD suppressor for a threaded barrel because the pitches/grooves are nowhere near the same for the flash hider as they are for the barrel, and you may have to go through hell and high water to get your barrel threaded to accept the QD flash hider, just to mount a suppressor.

  As Mr. Rawles has said, if you get this job done, be discreet.  Make sure you are clear in describing what you want, and make sure the person is reputable.  The thread must be true or else the suppressor will go on crooked and that can lead to what is called a baffle strike.  I was told by one gent that most suppressor manufacturers will not service your suppressor (under its warranty) if they do not know the person, or business, who performed your threading because it could be a defect in the threading that caused the strike and not a manufacturer’s defect.  Check with them to see if they have an “approved list”.

Firing wet. 
You can fire your can “wet”, but this does not mean your can is designed to be fired “wet”.   This reduces the sound because it reduces the temperature of the hot gases which are responsible for most of the noise (minus the sonic crack, of course).  Make sure you check the directions before you do so.  I added a little water to my Blackside and the difference was huge.  Some folks use WD-40 (I would not do this!), and lithium grease.  My Blackside came packed with lithium grease.  When I fired it, the sound was very low, but there was so much smoke as to think that a semi had just changed gears going up a hill!   And remember that steel rusts.

Buying a sheath.
  I recommend this.  I thought the sheaths were for camouflage, until I tried to take mine off using my naked hand (dumb).  When I was a child, I accidentally grabbed a glowing orange/red jumbo sparkler.  It felt exactly the same.  Buy a sheath.  It’ll also provide a little more protection to your suppressor since they are slightly padded Nomex.   And just because you have a sheath on your suppressor I still recommend using a glove when trying to remove it.

Firing with a suppressor.  A few observations I’ve noticed about firing a suppressor.  Your ammo cases get really dirty!  I say this as a heads up to reloaders.  The other thing is hard to explain.  When firing my AR-15 suppressed, it was as if the gases were coming back at me.  It was like they just went in my eyes and nose and tried to come out of my mouth.  Could have been the back pressure.   So if you are trying to kill zombies trying to steal your food and gold, keep this in mind: the gases may make your eyes water.

The process.  My goal here is to keep this simple and tell you what I had to do because neither  the local Sheriff, nor the Police Chief, would not sign off on his portion of the paperwork.  My guidance came from the Class 3 FFL dealer.  The traditional way requires that you accomplish:

  • Two passport photos for each ATF Form 4 (money).
  • $200 Money Order/check for the tax stamp.
  • Copy of citizenship form (2).
  • Finger print cards (2).
  • ATF Form 4 for each item (the sheet itself is duplicate).
  • LEO form signed by the Sheriff, Judge, D.A., Police Chief, etc.
  • Pay the transfer fee the store usually charges you.  About $75 (once you get the item).

I do not recommend this method because: it costs more; longer wait; less privacy; and it’s more difficult to leave your NFA items with someone you know.  Finally, you then send all of this in and wait 4-6 months!

Here’s what my Class 3 FFL guy told me to do:

Buy Quicken WillMaker Plus 2011 (or later) and set up your Revocable Living Trust (RLT) ($14).  I already had my suppressors at the store (which meant I had the serial numbers and the physical description) so I added them (some might disagree with this). Get it notarized.  No need for a lawyer who will charge you $150! 

A word of caution here.  This is what I did based upon the advice of my Class 3 FFL who has had numerous NFA transfers approved using this method in this state.  Some recommend that you go through a lawyer, or a professional, that specializes in the creation of RLTs as opposed to using a software program.  Whatever bed you choose, you will have to sleep in it.

I put my immediate family in my trust.  The benefit to the RLT is that if you have to leave your NFA items behind, you can leave them with those on the trust as opposed to transferring the items to them, and thus having to pay the $200 transfer  tax, and then waiting for the turnaround in paperwork.  Furthermore, anytime you wish to add another NFA item, you just write it on your RLT once you take possession of the item (you still have to go through the same NFA process!).  One thing: Make sure those you list on your RLT know what they are getting into when you leave these items with them.  You owe it to them. 

Some benefits to the RLT route:

  • No fingerprints
  • No photos
  • No citizenship form to fill out
  • No LEO signature

All that you need to do if you’ve established a trust:

  • Pay transfer fee to FFL.
  • Fill out ATF Form 4.
  • Pay $200 tax stamp. 

A key point: If you buy multiple NFA items and submit the paperwork at the same time, do a USPS Money Order for each item since one benefit is that it will instantly clear.  The FFL explained to me that if there is a discrepancy in your paperwork for one item, and not all of them, the examiner may hold up all of your items if you, for instance, wrote a $600 check for three items.  But if you send if separate Money Orders, then the unaffected items can still go through the process because the payments for those items is independent of the frustrated item.

Using the RLT method, the turnaround time for me was three months, only because some ATF person had forgotten my paperwork in their in box.  As soon as my FFL called the ATF, the Examiner signed the docs and sent them out the next day. So really it was like 2½ months.  The FFL guy I was working through said he got his back in two months using the same process.  He said that this was the quickest he had ever seen it done.

ATF Form 4s. 
Once complete, you must keep the ATF form 4s with the items whenever you move them.  The FFL dealer showed me this really cool idea.  He had his copied and shrunk down to a card that a local place made into something akin to a driver’s license.  What I did was go to a UPS Store and have them shrink it down and then laminate each ATF Form 4.  Each card is very legible and fits in my wallet.  Keep your originals in a safe place.  I’d make digital copies of your forms as well and store that file in a safe place.

Crossing state lines. 
Unlike other NFA items, you do not need to complete an ATF Form 5320.20 when taking a suppressor across state lines. (I got this confirmed by an ATF branch agent in West Virginia).  However, you must take your ATF Form 4s with you for each NFA item in your possession whenever transporting them.  Never leave home without them.   [JWR Adds: Of course state laws also apply, so check the laws of the states that you will be transiting, before you travel!]

Inspections.  Speaking to the local ATF rep, I found out that the ATF does not conduct administrative visits for private citizens in possession of NFA items (to include machine guns).  She stated that this is a nationwide policy, and that they only inspect licensed dealers with NFA items.  She added that in New York that there could be [state] inspections. (Which is why you should vote with your feet).   In addition, she said local laws may vary, and in that regard the local authorities may be able to inspect your NFA items.

Reloading: Creating your own subsonic rounds.  If you wish to do this, bear in mind that you are giving up a lot of oomph with your .223 or .308.  My AAR observations when trying to create my own subsonic .223 rounds are as follows: 1) most subsonic rifle rounds are heavier than normal; and 2) subsonic rifle round manufacturers  ‘suggest’ that you use a faster than normal rifle twist with their bullets.  For example, I’ve seen commercial .223 subsonic weigh in at 100 grains and ask for a 1:7 inch twist.  I’ve also seen subsonic .22 LR in 60 grains and ask for a 1:9 inch twist.  When you start designing your loads to get the right combination, safety first!  You do not want an undercharged bullet to get stuck in the barrel [or strike a baffle]s.  Using a chronometer (with your rifle barrel four to five feet back), start with heavy charges and work your way down to lesser grain charges as opposed to starting weak and working your way up.  Point the barrel at the ground or at any target which you can easily discern a hit.  I suggest using the ground as dirt will fly up with each hit.  If you see dirt, then you know the bullet left the barrel.  Catalog each bullet as you decrease in grains.  Bear in mind that in a semi-auto you will go from a cycling bolt, to a partially cycling bolt with its jammed expended cartridges, to a bolt that does not cycle at all.  Keep track of the kind of brass you used (not that important), the primer, the powder, the bullet brand and grain, the seating depth, the barrel rifle twist, as well as the barrel length so that you can recreate your load and possibly share with others under what conditions your bullet was subsonic.  And keep an eye on your chronometer.  Make sure you do not get too close or you will be measuring the velocity of the bullet, and sometimes the gases.  I made this mistake and several times got a reading of 4,400fps even as I was decreasing powder charges.

In closing, one person put it, getting an NFA item is a lot like getting a CCW permit.  Lastly, remember to “buy it now before it’s illegal” (and that goes for everything).  They’ve already started banning lemonade stands, home gardens, and walking while texting. Who knows what’s next?

And thank you to those who provided feedback to the earlier posting!