January 13, 2022
By Brad Fitzpatrick
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms recently made changes to the suppressor purchasing process, and it’s a win for hunters and shooters. Previously, Form 4 applications (required for purchasing a silencer under the National Firearms Act) had to be submitted in paper form, which bogged down the process and caused long wait times. But as of December 23, 2021, the ATF is now accepting digital Form 4 applications, and that means drastically reduced wait times when buying a silencer.
“We were part of the beta testing for the new digital forms for eight months before they went live,” says Silencer Central CEO Brandon Maddox. Silencer Central has been working with the ATF to determine if there are any glitches or bugs that might slow down or completely derail the process. Testing has taken time, but Maddox says that the new E-form will cut wait times for a silencer to as little as 60 to 90 days, much less than the 10 to 12 months required to receive approval prior to the adoption of electronic Form 4.
“The ATF found that each application had to be touched 42 times after it was submitted until the process was complete,” Maddox says. “That created a massive backlog, and the ATF wasn’t happy about it.”
We’re deep into the digital age, so why has it taken the ATF so long to approve digital applications? According to Maddox, the ATF has been using the same database to collect NFA application forms since the late 1960s. That’s a tremendous amount of data that must be kept and recorded, and the new software system had to manage that load while simultaneously keeping pace with a flood of new users getting inline to have their forms approved.
This isn’t the first time that the bureau has attempted to transfer Form 4 applications to a digital platform. In 2014 and 2015 the ATF rolled out their first digital Form 4, but the software system, which wasn’t cloud-based, simply couldn’t keep pace with the flood of applications. Though that initial rollout was unsuccessful the ATF has since upgraded to a database that, according to Maddox, is working well.
Maddox has a good working relationship with the ATF, and his company Silencer Central has revolutionized the way we purchase suppressors. Silencer Central has streamlined the suppressor purchasing process by creating digital copies of Form 4 and walking customers through the buying process. Purchasing a silencer without someone to guide you through the process can be a complex and confusing process for first-time buyers, but Silencer Central has made the process as user-friendly as possible, even mailing potential buyers a fingerprint kit and allowing their silencers to be mailed directly to their front door. In doing so, Maddox and his team have proven that their method works, and that’s why the ATF chose the company for beta testing the new E-form.
“We tried to fool the new system, break it,” Maddox says. “When the ATF was satisfied that they had a cloud-based system that would work they rolled it out to the public.”
But Maddox and his company served as more than a beta tester for the new E-form. In fact, it was Maddox that helped secure funding from the federal government to transition to digital Form 4 applications in the first place.
“Everyone was hoping that the Hearing Protection Act would pass, and we were, too.” Maddox said. The Hearing Protection Act would have made it legal to own a suppressor without a tax stamp, which is the case in many other countries. “But it didn’t, and we had to figure something else out.”
That something else was to approach South Dakota senator John Thune to secure funds that would be directed to the Department of Justice and would help, in part, to transition to a new digital database for NFA applications. The Trump administration supported the funding, and the new system was put in place.
Form 4 became the last NFA application to be accepted digitally last December, and so far the response has been positive. Silencer Central’s paperwork has always been digital, says Maddox, so their customers won’t notice much of a difference with the actual process when purchasing except that they will obtain a username and PIN number with the ATF. Photos and fingerprints are still required, but Silencer Central walks you through the process and mails materials directly to your home. Of course, Silencer Central will still help you set up a trust and navigate any language in the application that you do not understand, and they are still offering their interest-free eZ Pay system that allows you to pay off your silencer and associated costs in interest-free payments. Once final payment has been made the suppressor ships to your home. With the streamlined new E-form system (which, according to Maddox, the ATF plans to keep staffed for a roughly 90-day turnaround) your suppressor might be ready to ship before your four installment payments are completed.
I came late to suppressors, and I’m sorry that I did. Silencer Central has taken the complex process of applying for tax stamps, establishing trusts, and all the rest and has made the process smooth and simple. It’s unfortunate that the Hearing Protection Act didn’t pass, and it displays ignorance by the non-shooting public on the role of silencers. However, the rollout of a digital Form 4 helps make it faster and easier to own a suppressor. And you should. Though I was never against silencers—indifferent is a more accurate term—it’s very rare for me to shoot a rifle or handgun unsuppressed these days, and I haven’t bought a rifle with an unthreaded muzzle in years. I’ve purchased three suppressors from Silencer central in recent years, the paperwork for the last of which has recently been submitted using the new E-form. The good news is that it’ll be weeks before that silencer arrives at my door, not months.
For more information on purchasing a silencer or to access digital Form 4 applications, please visit: silencercentral.com
Link to E-Form 4: https://www.atf.gov/firearms/applications-eforms
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