What Happens When Suppressors Are No Longer NFA Items?

The Smith & Wesson C.O.R.E. with the Burris FastFire3 optic and the GEMTECH GM-9 suppressor is James Bond ready! Read full review! (Photo: Clay Martin)

The process of buying a gun muffler — aka a “suppressor” or, more inaccurately, a “silencer” — is long, expensive, and complex. But that process might change drastically in the next few months as legislators and activists work to de-regulate the purchase and possessions of suppressors in the United States.

If that happens, gun owners can expect to see some drastic changes in the market.

The Hearing Protection Act (HPA) is currently making its way through the U.S. Congress. If it passes, suppressors will move from NFA Class III items to the same regulatory category as long rifles. Purchasers will still have to pass a background check, but they will no longer have to pay for a $200 tax stamp or wait six to nine months for the ATF to process their paperwork.

This got me thinking — what happens when President Trump signs the bill into law? What will happen to the suppressor industry and how will that affect gun owners?

To answer my questions I reached out to the American Suppressor Association and Owen Miller, their Director of Outreach.

Miller told me that the passage of the HPA will make suppressor sales rise exponentially. “The HPA will absolutely make the market explode,” he said. “I would expect that once the HPA passes you’ll see a spike in demand nearly overnight.”

He explained that removing the tax stamp requirement will automatically make suppressors cheaper, but that won’t be the primary driver of the market expansion. The real win for the suppressor industry will be the shortened wait time.

Right now if someone wants to purchase a suppressor, they have to pay for it up front and wait up to nine months before actually using it. Most people, Miller said, would rather purchase a firearm (or two) that they’re able to take them home the same day.

The ability to drive to a gun shop, purchase a suppressor, and take it to the range is what will really drive the rise in demand.

The most important question, of course, is whether or not de-regulating suppressors will make them cheaper. Unfortunately, Miller didn’t seem to think so. The initial rise in demand might actually make suppressors more expensive for the first 12-18 months until manufacturers are able to catch up.

That being said, Miller did concede that de-regulating suppressors will allow more players to enter the market. Increased competition will, over time, lead to a wider range in the quality of suppressors available. A good quality suppressor might still cost $800 post-HPA, but customers will also be able to purchase a lower-quality version from another manufacturer for less money.

This is all assuming Congress passes the Act.

I asked Miller what he sees as the biggest challenge to the Act’s passage. He cited education — both of legislators and gun owners — as the ASA’s most important objective.

Contrary to Hollywood’s depiction, suppressors aren’t primarily the tool of spies and assassins. They were included in the NFA as a “last-minute addition” because legislators were worried about poaching during the Great Depression.

They also don’t make guns completely silent. Even with a suppressor, firearms still run in the 130-140 decibel range, much too loud for the silent commission of crimes.

Like the HPA implies, suppressors are all about gun safety. Suppressors protect the hearing of hunters and shooters, and, Miller pointed out, allow hunters to maintain their situational awareness. Using suppressors, hunters are able to hunt without hearing protection, allowing them to communicate with other hunters as well as hear game. This keeps everyone safe in the field and allows for a more efficient hunt.

Congress will consider the HPA’s passage in the upcoming legislative session, and the ASA hopes to pass it within the first 100 days of President Trump’s time in office.

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