Q: What does NFA mean?
A: NFA refers to certain class of items: silencers/suppressors, machine guns, short barrel rifles (less than 26” overall and/or a barrel under 16”), short barreled shotguns (less than 26” overall and/or a barrel length under 18”), and AOW’s (Any other weapon). NFA is the acronym for the Nation Firearms Act of 1934; this act imposed a transfer tax of $200 and a registration process on the items listed above.
Q: Can I own a silencer or other NFA item?
A: Yes, Currently 39 states allow private ownership of silencers. If you meet the legal requirements to buy a handgun then you qualify to buy a silencer.
Q: Can I buy a machine gun?
A: Yes, but it’s going to cost you about as much as a car. There are a finite number of machine guns that are eligible for transfer to civilians. The Gun Control Act of 1968 banned importation of machine guns for civilian transfer and then The Firearm Owners Protection Act in 1986 banned the transfer of any newly manufactured machines guns. Basically, you are limited to buying machine guns that were in the registry before May 19, 1986. So, if you were hoping for a cool full auto Glock 18 under the Christmas tree this year, it’s not happening. For around $30k you can treat yourself to a nice H&K MP5 and a copy of Die Hard.
Q: What is an AOW?
A: Any Other Weapon (AOW) covers any gun that is designed to look like something that is not a gun… Confused yet? This includes pen guns, cane guns, flashlight guns, knife guns, and any other James Bond style gun you can think of. AOW also includes smooth bore pistols; certain 12 gauge and 20 gauge firearms fall under this if they have a pistol grip only (not designed to be fired from the shoulder) and are under 26” in length. The paperwork is the same to transfer an AOW as any of the other NFA items; the fun part is the transfer tax is only $5 for AOW’s. So, it you can’t afford to be John McClain from Die Hard with the $30k MP5 this Christmas; you can still be James Bond after a few $5 transfers.
Q: Do I need a license to buy a silencer?
A: Nope; the idea of a license is a wide spread misconception. To buy a silencer you must fill out a Form 4 (ATF form for transfer of a NFA item), pay a onetime $200 transfer tax, and submit a fingerprint card and passport photo as part of the packet.
Q: Is it a silencer or suppressor?
A: The short answer is you can call it either. On the original patent Mr. Maxim called it a silencer and the ATF legal term on forms is silencer. The term Suppressor is commonly used in the industry since the sound of the gunshot is suppressed – it’s not silent (Hollywood lied to us, go figure).
Q: How quiet is a silencer?
A: It depends on the firearm and ammo. Hollywood makes every firearm sound like a cute little mouse fart. A suppressor on a 22 rimfire rifle, shooting subsonic ammo really is as quiet as Hollywood makes it sound; the sound of the gun shot isn’t much different than the sound of dry firing the rifle.
When you use supersonic ammo (most rifle rounds) you get a sonic boom that the suppressor can’t stop. Also, the massive amount of gas can be quieted down but it’s still louder than clapping your hands together. OSHA established 140 decibels are the limit for impulse noise that is hearing safe. The best suppressors can reduce the report of a 308 caliber rifle to approx. 140 decibels which is right at the max you want to be around without additional hearing protection. The same rifle without a suppressor is approx. 170 decibels. Suppressors are great for protecting your hearing while shooting but you won’t be able to get away with firing a rifle in the back yard without making every dog in the neighborhood bark.
Q: How does a silencer work?
A: A silencer is a series of baffles that redirect the gas produced by the gun powder. The redirection of gas allows extra time for the gas to cool and shrink before exiting into the atmosphere. It also slows the gas so it exits over a longer period of time instead of all at once. The noise from a gunshot is caused by the rapid change in environment when the gas hits the atmosphere – the sound is lessened now that you have slowed and cooled the gas.