Good morning fellow suppressor enthusiasts and welcome back to TFB’s Silencer Saturday brought to you by Yankee Hill Machine, manufacturers of the YHM Turbo K. Last week we got a Christmas morning peek at the new LMT-AT ION 30 rifle suppressor and I had hoped to bring you a more in-depth look at it’s performance and features on New Years Day. However, we need to postpone the ION 30 until next weekend and talk about the ATF warning letter myself and hundreds, maybe thousands, of other American shooters received this week. Let’s take a look at the letter.
Editor’s Note:Nothing written here should be construed as legal advice
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SILENCER SATURDAY: The ATF Warning Letter
I received the above letter via FedEx addressed to ‘Diversified Machine Customer’. It starts by stating:
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is responsible for enforcing Federal firearms laws. ATF has received information that you have acquired, or have attempted to acquire, one or more silencer kits/silencers or silencer parts from Diversified Machine/ https://diversified.machine.us, which have been determined to be silencers, none of which are registered to you in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record (NFRTR) as required by the National Firearms Act (NFA), Title 26 U.S.C. Chapter 53.
Allegedly, recipients of this letter have ‘acquired or attempted to acquire’ “silencer kits” or “silencer parts” that are unregistered NFA items. This statement makes certain assumptions (the acquisition) and assertions (these were silencer parts) that are typically made by the ATF’s technical branch, not a field office. Before we get into the letter, I’d like to review a bit of history.
As you all hopefully know by now, one of my passions (James calls it a fetish) are firearm suppressors. In what we can call the Forbidden Fruit theory – the more you restrict people from doing or owning something, the more they want to own or do that thing. Having spent too many years in a state that outlaws silencer ownership by its citizens, I was ravenous for NFA ownership by the time my freedoms had been restored. Not only that, I was determined to spread the gospel of silence to anyone who would listen.
My first long form articles at TFB were the Beginner’s Guide to Suppressors and the Build Your Own Silencer “series”. My goal was simple: answer all the questions that I had as I worked through the NFA buying, transferring, and ownership process. Luckily for me, I have a fantastic dealer and friend who has helped me every step of the way. For those who aren’t as blessed, I hope that my silencer content has helped you to make informed decisions on everything from muzzle devices to multi-caliber suppressors.
In addition to all of the technical content, one of my priorities was too keep all of you safe. Obviously, avoiding catastrophic failures is a way to prevent physical injury. But because the National Firearms Act (NFA) laws and regulations are like playing Frogger on the interstate, I have preached about staying well within the bounds of the law. I disagree entirely with the way NFA items are classified and regulated, especially silencers. However, as I have always said, the law is the law and suggesting anything that could put anyone in jeopardy would be unethical and immoral. In the end, each individual can choose their own destiny, but my job is to steer you towards safety.
So when it came time to write about building suppressors, I made it clear that no work should be done before receiving an approved ATF Form 1. The penalties for skipping steps in the NFA approval process are too great to ignore and the last thing I want to do is get anyone in trouble. In fact, this is the reason that I never published a Part 2 in the Build Your Own Suppressor “series”. Outlining how people can buy parts for solvent traps that may eventually become suppressors is a tricky line to walk.
Remember, there is no such thing as an 80% silencer kit in the United States. The term “any device for silencing, muffling, or diminishing the report of a portable firearm, including any combination of parts, designed or redesigned, and intended for the use in assembling or fabricating a firearm silencer or firearm muffler, any part intended only for use in such assembly or fabrication” means that a single baffle is legally a silencer on its own. It’s dumb, but it’s also the law.
Building a firearm suppressor is not difficult. Rimfire models can be made from polymer and larger caliber silencers can be made with washers, freeze plugs, and tubes found at any hardware or auto parts store for less than the cost of a fast food meal. But many makers (non-licensed entities are ‘makers’ and Special Occupational Tax (SOT) stamp holders are ‘manufacturers’) opt to turn pre-made devices like fuel filters, oil filters, and solvent traps into legal Form 1 suppressors. With the way the laws and regulations are written, the differentiation between filter or solvent trap and suppressor may not be as clear as we would like them to be.
For example, cones with drilled bores would probably be seen as baffles, but a 1/2 x 28 end cap should be fine. The popular argument that has been made for years is to avoid drilling any bore holes prior to having an approved ATF Form 1. An even safer bet is to not purchase any materials before having an approved Form 1. But what if you love firearms and car maintenance equally? When does the fuel filter on the garage shelf legally become a suppressor?
Which finally brings us to the ATF warning letter. For many recipients, this correspondence sparked fears of search warrants, arrests, and prolonged and expensive legal battles. For others, the warning was just a statement of “if you don’t have an Form 1 you may be violating laws”. A third perspective is that the “parts” they ordered were later determined to be silencers and therefore should have been transferred from an SOT on an approved Form 4.
The issue is that allegedly Diversified Machine sold a variety of parts, some of which were clearly not NFA controlled like muzzle brake adapters, to monocore-style assemblies that may have pushed the line. But every alleged customer received a letter, regardless if they ordered, or attempted to order, anything from Diversified Machine.
In spite of the silencer parts determination in the law, people should be judged by their actions and intents, not on the mere speculation of possessing inanimate objects. Are we really at the point of criminalizing the possession of a small metal cone with a hole? Especially when that individual made every good faith effort to follow the NFA rules and regulations.
- The NFA sucks – it punishes law abiding citizens and does not prevent crime.
- The NFA is federal law. Follow it or face penalties.
- When it comes to silencers, the regulations are confusing at best, frighteningly ambiguous at worst.
- Have an approved Form 1 before beginning work on any silencer parts.
- Repeal the NFA and remove silencers from the registry.
Be safe everyone and we’ll see you back next weekend for another Silencer Saturday.
Note: If you decide to comment, please avoid using derogatory language towards the men and women of the ATF. It’s unproductive, makes us look uneducated and crass, and does nothing to further our cause. Stick to factual arguments.