I’ve often heard it asked, “What’s the point in owning a ‘silencer’ if you’re not a criminal?” My tongue-in-cheek answer to this question is usually something along the lines of, “Because they’re just plain cool, and zombies have good hearing.”
Quite frankly, the choice to own an NFA item is one of personal enjoyment and novelty. And because shorty AR-15s tend to leave everyone’s ears ringing — even despite wearing adequate hearing protection — threading on a suppressor really does make for a more enjoyable time at the range. With that being said, I’ve also encountered another question, which I consider to be more valid …
“Is it even worth the time, money, and ridiculous bureaucracy to purchase an NFA item?”
What Items Are We Talking About?
Well, first off, I am NOT an attorney, but I have spent lots of time behind the sales counter in a class III gun shop. According to my knowledge and experience, let’s look at the facts. To begin, what makes the list as an NFA item?
- Automatic weapons
- Short-barrel rifles (SBR)
- Short-barrel shotguns (SBS)
- Any other weapons (AOW) … such as umbrella guns … and other things you might find in a 1970s-era James Bond movie.
Oh, and then there’s “destructive devices,” like anti-tank missiles, grenades, and Iron Man suits.
(Congress has yet to conclude if mini-arch reactors fall under this category — but there’s always an executive order for that.)
Considerations: Why NFA Certainly Does Have Its Societal Benefit
Now I will say this, the rule of law is in place so that crazies can’t get away with their craziness (i.e.: the reason why civilians can’t own a Javelin missile system). In a sense, yes, this NFA stuff can get downright tiresome; however, I can’t say that I disagree with certain items like full-auto machine guns, being more of a challenge to acquire. Honestly, I like it that law enforcement should know who’s got such potent weapons of war. Let’s face it, the North Hollywood shootout is reminder that bad guys exist, and that an unregistered full-auto battle rifle can turn a peaceful community into a combat zone in a single squeeze of a trigger.
Besides, full-auto machine guns aren’t exactly good for accuracy. They’re meant to pin down enemy troops, so that your battle buddies can out-maneuver and take them with their selector switches on semi-auto or 3-round burst.
The US military’s top brass realized that during Vietnam.
Let’s Put Things In Perspective…
When the National Firearms Act (NFA) was passed in 1934, the requirement for purchasing a class III item was a tax stamp of $200. Of course, that does add a considerable burden to an already expensive Yankee Hill suppressor, but it’s interesting that the cost of this tax stamp has never gone up since NFA was enacted.
In 2015, $200 is fairly hefty, but not totally cost prohibitive. However, when adjusted for inflation, the cost of that tax stamp in 1934 would have felt like $3,560. So, all things considered, I would say that inflation is actually working in our favor on this one.
If anything, the real cost comes in the form of the hoops of paperwork that we’ll have to jump through and the annoyingly long wait to finally bring home the NFA item that we so desire.
Here, Have Some Bureaucracy
If there were a tax-stamping headache, it would be the result of how many forms it takes to gain the approval of our nanny, Uncle Sam.
And not only that, but we also have to endure the excruciating wait for BATFE officials to make up their mind on the matter. Just how long is this wait? Well, here’s a website that actually lists these transactions, showing how long it’s been recently taking: NFATracker.com. With that being said, you’ll usually wait anywhere from 90 days to 11 months. The average is about 5-7 months. In addition, you’ll have to complete the following forms, background checks, and required homework:
- ATF Form 4
- Form 5330.20
- Recent passport-style photo
- Fingerprint card
- Chief law enforcement officer (CLEO) signature on your Form 4
If anything, often the most unpredictable part is getting that CLEO signature, since some NFA-purchasing folks have often run into officers who have some strange disagreement with the Second Amendment. However, one “no” from your local police chief doesn’t mean that you can’t get a good old fashioned John Hancock from your town’s municipal judge.
On the other hand, you can also purchase an NFA item through a gun trust. This will save you a boatload of headaches, since you won’t have to get a signature and send in photos or fingerprints. It also provides ample protection for things like gun transfers. The only drawback is that you’d have to hire an attorney, which could get quite a bit more costly than just going through the tax stamping process as an individual (including the $200 tax stamp).
Nevertheless, as with a gun trust, you do get what you pay for.
It’s been said that if you decide to purchase an NFA item and go through with the tax-stamping process, then you essentially wave your Fourth Amendment liberties (searches and seizure protection under the Constitution).
Let us clear the air: you CANNOT lose your Fourth Amendment liberties from purchasing an NFA firearm or accessory! I’m not even the only one shouting from the rooftops on this issue either. Actually, the gurus from The Truth About Guns agree with me on this:
This is completely false! These are unfounded rumors. The BATFE cannot and will not show up at your home to inspect your NFA items. Ever. At least not without a warrant, and they … sure cannot enter your property without a warrant. No, owning NFA-regulated firearms is not any sort of reason for any sort of judge to issue a warrant, either. End of story. You absolutely do not waive your 4th Amendment rights in whole or in part by owning NFA items.
However, what the government CAN do is make the arrival of your NFA approval feel like you’re a four-year-old being tortured by the fact that Christmas is more than five months away.
People, Please Be Smart (and Not Federally Convicted)
Oh and by the way …
If you construct a firearm or suppressor, making it fall under the NFA’s criteria, and also have no intentions in following the law by registering said item through a Class III dealer, then you could be facing a decade in federal prison if you’re caught doing so.
So, ladies and gentleman, please be smart and follow the law. Don’t find yourself in an orange jumpsuit for 10 years, just because you didn’t feel like waiting 10 months. Quite frankly, such a mistake should probably register as an immediately tragic lifelong regret in my book, especially for the fact that there are LEGAL aftermarket products, which don’t require any NFA tax-stamping nanny paperwork and seven months in their gun-loving timeout corner. Take the Slide Fire, for example.
What do you think? Is an NFA weapon worth the trouble to acquire it?