Legally Armed: V20N3
By Teresa G. Ficaretta, Esq. & Johanna Reeves, Esq.
Regulation of Firearm Silencers Under Federal Law
In the past few years there has been a significant surge in consumer interest in firearm mufflers or silencers. This is due, in part, to changes in state law that previously prohibited private consumer possession of silencers. Now that state laws in over 40 states allow consumers to lawfully acquire silencers, and in light of the advances in silencer design and manufacture, silencers are one of the fastest growing segments of the firearms industry. Given the increasing volume of silencers being manufactured, imported, and distributed in the United States, it is essential that federal firearms licensees (FFLs) have a thorough knowledge of the laws regulating these devices. This article provides an overview of federal law pertaining to the manufacture, importation, and distribution of firearm silencers.
I. Regulation under the Gun Control Act and National Firearms Act
Silencers are regulated as “firearms” under the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA) and the National Firearms Act (NFA). GCA regulation means that silencers are subject to the following requirements:
- Licensing requirements for persons “engaged in the business” of manufacturing, importing, or dealing in silencers;
- Marking requirements for silencers manufactured by licensed manufacturers and imported by licensed importers;
- Record keeping requirements for licensed manufacturers, licensed importers, and licensed dealers;
- Interstate controls, which generally prohibit the interstate transfer of firearms to non-licensees;
- Prohibited person provisions, making it unlawful to transfer firearms to felons and other prohibited persons; and
- Import provisions, which generally prohibit the importation of NFA firearms, including silencers, except for sale to federal, state, or local government agencies.
NFA firearms, including silencers, are subject to more stringent regulation, including the following:
- Manufacturers, importers, and dealers must register with ATF prior to engaging in a firearms business and must pay special (occupational) tax;
- All NFA firearms must be registered by their manufacturer, importer, or maker, and registration must be done within narrow timeframes established by regulation, i.e., no later than close of business the day following manufacture;
- Transfers of NFA firearms must be approved in advance by ATF, and transfers to non-licensees are subject to a $200 transfer...
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