NFA devices — such as short-barreled rifles, machine guns, and silencers — are on the rise, according to newly released ATF data that showed a 49% increase in processed ATF forms in 2020.
The increase is the largest bump in processed forms for the agency since records became available in 2005.
Silencers — tools that attach to the end of a firearm and dampen the sound — experienced the biggest boom with purchases for these devices undergoing a 158% increase in registration since 2005.
The ATF’s Annual Firearms Commerce in the United States Report, which offers a round-up of yearly ATF data and stats, indicated over 2 million suppressors registrations with the agency in 2020.
Special Occupational Taxpayers, FFL dealers licensed through the ATF to transfer and hold NFA items, say they’ve witnessed the silencer uptick first hand.
“There has been an increase after a slump when everyone thought the Hearing Protection Act was going pass. Then when folks figured out [the HPA] was a pipe dream, folks started buying again,” Dr. Mark Riehl, an FFL in East Tennessee, told Pew Pew Tactical.
“Suppressors are available and steady in pricing.”
Mark Roe of Roe Tactical said while his business does handle fingerprinting for Form 1 applications — applications to make an NFA item, like an SBR — he sees more silencer transfers than any other NFA item.
“Transfer wise, we see mostly suppressors, but we added fingerprinting services last year. So, we’ve seen quite a few folks coming and doing Form 1s as well.”
Jeremy Pozderac, an FFL and podcaster at We Like Shooting, said NFA items are trending upwards.
Though short-barreled rifles fall under the NFA banner, Pozderac said AR pistols have scooped up SBR business. In turn, this allowed suppressors to take the lead.
“Suppressor sales are up, SBR sales are down, and machine-gun sales are toys for rich people,” Pozderac joked. “No one’s gonna SBR an AR because pistol braces.”
While the $200 tax stamp may seem steep for a sound dampening device, many dealers we spoke to explained that to some consumers, the fee is worth it.
The hearing benefits and recoil mitigation make silencers a perfect fit for instructors teaching new gun owners the basics.
Silencer advocates told us silencers can really help lessen the intimidation factor.
Additionally, these tools provide a certain fun factor on the range.
“People are seeing the huge benefits [of silencers] and enjoyment with shooting and not smashing their eardrums,” Dustin Coleman explained.
“As one guy in a group has one and the others hear it, they instantly get it. With newer ammo options in subsonic, it really adds to the fun.”
He says, though he does not sell silencers directly, the increase in suppressor ownership has bled over to the accessory industry as well.
“The growth we have seen is impressive,” Coleman said.
Are Silencers Legal? Yes!
While the benefits of silencers speak for themselves, there’s always been the issue of educating consumers.
Though a study conducted by Western Criminology Review revealed that criminal use of silencers is “rare,” silencers suffer from the Hollywood treatment.
Shown in the hands of criminals, hitmen, and mob bosses, movie and TV portrayals led many Americans in the past to mistakenly connect silencers to crime.
Additionally, the mystique surrounding the legality of these devices left many consumers unaware that silencers were even legal to own.
That, however, began to lift through education efforts.
“I think a lot of the mystery of NFA items has been dispelled. Things like Silencer Shop kiosks, RocketFFL, and others helping with paperwork to form trusts means that there are easier avenues for what used to be a difficult and confusing process for something that seems ‘legally scary,” Sven Jonsson of Manticore Arms explained.
Ryan Cleckner, owner of RocketFFL, pointed to accessible information and resources as one of the most significant factors in the silencer uptick.
“Education has definitely played, I think, the biggest role in expanding NFA firearm purchase,” Cleckner said. “We owe a lot of this to a couple of companies. I think SilencerCo did an amazing job in their marketing efforts to talk about how silencers are legal — getting people to learn and understand about silencers.”
“The biggest boom in sales is because of Silencer Shop’s kiosks. It’s so much easier. They made a very big impact,” Cleckner added.
Online Silencer Market Booms
In the world of NFA items, this unprecedented access to easy processes and information undoubtedly began with Silencer Shop.
ATF 41P, introduced in 2016 by the ATF, removed law enforcement approval from the suppressor registration requirement and revamped the gun trust process.
In response, Silencer Shop introduced kiosks at FFL partners.
These kiosks allowed prospective customers to order silencers online and easily navigate the ATF process.
In turn, creating repeat customers and introducing more gun owners to the world of silencers.
“Once people see that the process is achievable, they buy more,” Wesley, an FFL in Tennessee, said. “I had one guy buy four [silencers]. It was so easy. And it’s super easy for me. I just hold the cans until the [ATF] paperwork shows up.”
Other companies have also harnessed the world wide web to offer silencers online and with less headache.
For instance, Silencer Central handles all paperwork related to the Form 4 — to the point that consumers don’t even have to leave their house.
After it’s all said and done and the ATF has signed off, Silencer Central suppressors ship directly to consumers’ doors.
The company says this deviation away from face-to-face dealer interactions and into online territory is a natural progression in the online firearms industry.
“Consumers are realizing the purchase process for a silencer is radically different than a rifle. Just because their local dealer is excellent at the regular firearms purchase process doesn’t mean they know anything about the silencer acquisition process,” Silencer Central CEO Brandon Maddox said.
He continued, “The local dealer normally does not have the knowledge or systems in place to proficiently manage the silencer purchase process, and customers know this.”
2020’s Impact on Sales
Aside from general interest and better education, 2020 proved especially lucrative for the silencer business.
With a pandemic and civil unrest that had many Americans questioning their safety and entering the firearms community for the first time, some companies saw business boom.
According to reports, ATF personnel processed over 512,000 NFA forms in 2020.
From 2015 to 2019, that number remained steadily in the 300,000s.
“I think customers are buying more guns, ammo, and silencers because they feel some level of unrest. Given our reality, I can certainly understand why,” Matt Pinnell of SilencerCo told Pew Pew Tactical.
“We generally hit these peaks when there is some sort of unrest. I have heard this referred to as a ‘panic buy market.'”
Pinnell pointed to Americans’ tendency to buy in bulk when faced with a perceived threat like illness or Second Amendment infringement.
“When people feel threatened by something, like a pandemic or civil unrest, or when they feel like their Second Amendment rights will be revoked by a political movement promising to take away their guns with new gun control regulations, they are motivated to buy more,” Pinnell said.
Despite SilencerCo sales increasing in 2020, the company emphasized that continued innovation is the key to returning customers.
“We are continually producing new and better products, which helps keep shooters engaged and excited about shooting with silencers.”
Why do you think suppressors are a hot NFA item? Let us know in the comments below. For more information on grabbing a silencer, check out our How To Buy A Suppressor article or check out the Best Places to Buy A Suppressor.