Buying an NFA item — a silencer, short barreled rifle/shotgun, machine gun, “any other weapon,” or destructive device — involves jumping through a series of .gov hoops, including paying a special tax and submitting a registration form. Perhaps the most complicated part for first-time buyers is deciding whether to register as an individual, as a trust, or as a corporation, and this decision must be made right off the bat.
The simplest and, in my opinion, the best option? A Single Shot Trust from Silencer Shop.
Registering with a Single Shot Trust
Silencer Shop creates an NFA trust (also often called a “gun trust” / “silencer trust” / “suppressor trust”) that is tied to one NFA item and one NFA item only, and is named for that item (e.g. “SilencerModel SN:1234 Trust”). Hence the “Single Shot” moniker. Purchase a suppressor, add the $24.95 Single Shot Trust product, and Silencer Shop does the rest.
ATF will register your shiny new NFA item to the trust, meaning the trust is the legal owner of said item. You’re listed on the trust as the only trustee (for now).
As with every other way to register, you’ll need a passport-style photograph and fingerprints to accompany the ATF Form 4. Silencer Shop makes this easy by allowing you to upload your photo to your Silencer Shop account (literally take a cell phone selfie in front of a white wall and upload it).
For fingerprinting, use a Silencer Shop S.I.D. Kiosk (they’re at hundreds of dealers around the country) for an easy process that’s automatically synced to your account, get digital fingerprinting done at some other place local to you, or use a paper fingerprinting packet if necessary. Once these things are in your Silencer Shop account, they’ll be included automatically with any future NFA registrations you do through Silencer Shop.
Fast forward a few months and your trust has been issued a cancelled tax stamp as proof of your paid NFA tax, which is stuck to your approved ATF registration “Form 4.” Now what?
Well, right now you’re effectively in the same boat as having registered as an individual. But, unlike with an individual registration, you aren’t stuck in this boat:
- Add (and remove) trustees as you please. Silencer Shop provides free addendum forms for this purpose. Trustees added after approval do not have to submit a photo or fingerprints. Y’all just fill out and sign the addendum and it’s done. Trustees have all possession and use rights for the NFA item on your Silencer Shop trust.
- Example: add your spouse so she/he isn’t legally in felonious possession of an NFA item should you be out of the house (if anyone else in your home has the code to the safe or if the NFA item isn’t locked up, they’re “in possession” of it) or if you leave it in your range bag in the trunk of the car and the wife borrows it.
- Example: add your hunting buddy so he can hunt suppressed on his big trip, then remove him afterwards (if you so choose).
- Example: sell your NFA item without subsequent $200 tax payments. Simply assign the trust to another individual by adding that person then removing yourself.
- Example: add a beneficiary or successor trustee so the NFA item “transfers” seamlessly upon your death, which looms closer with each passing day and hour.
This sort of simplicity and flexibility is worth so much more than the $24.95 cost of the Single Shot Trust.
Of course, if you plan to eventually buy 5+ NFA items (you do), Silencer Shop also offers a Single Shot Unlimited Trust for $129.95. As the name implies, this all-you-can-eat plan means you get unlimited Single Shot Trusts after that one-time payment.
Registering as an Individual
No. Don’t do this.
Well, okay, if you’re positive you’re going to live alone forever and you have no children, other inheritance considerations, or even a friend and you’re certain you’ll never want to sell your suppressor (or other NFA firearm) then, sure, register as an individual.
It’ll save you $25 over paying for a Single Shot Trust but that’s the only upside in a sea full of kneecapping yourself worse than Plaxico:
- The NFA item will be yours and yours only; in your name and nobody else’s.
- the wife is a felon in the examples mentioned in the Single Shot Trust section above
- there’s no adding other people
- if you were to sell your silencer, any buyer would have to go through the entire process just like buying a brand new one. The tax, the wait, the .gov hoops…all of it. That’s a hard sell.
- there are ways to have the NFA item pass down with your estate without requiring the tax to be re-paid, but it’ll likely cost more than $200 in legal fees and I believe the inheritor still has to go through the registration process.
Registering with a standard NFA Gun Trust
Prior to Silencer Shop coming up with the Single Shot Trust idea, the best NFA-buying option was usually going with a traditional gun trust.
It’s a very similar process to the Single Shot with the exception of requiring a notary public to notarize your physical trust document (Single Shot requires just an e-signature via DocuSign), but after ATF rule 41F went into effect these sorts of trusts became awfully cumbersome. Here’s the deal:
- A standard NFA trust is designed to own all of your NFA items, present and future. There are some downsides to this:
- all trustees have access to everything listed on the trust.
- every time you add a new NFA item every single trustee or responsible party on the trust must submit their fingerprints and photograph and will be included in the ATF/FBI background check process during the registration of that new NFA item. Good luck getting your wife, kids, brother in a different state, and pool boy to do this in a timely fashion. Furthermore, a written notification to each person’s county sheriff must also go out. Even after you get that together and file your Form 4, approval is likely to take additional time while ATF/FBI does background investigations on multiple parties instead of just you.
- these trusts range in cost from $100 to $1,000 depending on complexity and your lawyer’s hourly rate. A Single Shot Trust or Single Shot Unlimited Trust is a better deal.
Registering as a Corporation
In every way but one, having your corporation own the NFA items is identical to having a traditional NFA trust own them. The exception: all corporate officers and only corporate officers have access to the NFA toys. All officers must submit all of the same info as trustees do on a standard gun trust, but there is no option to add or remove people without adding or removing them as officers of the corporation.
All NFA items are assets of the company. Should ownership change through sale, liquidation, etc., the NFA items go with it or would need to be transferred out (subjecting each item to another $200 registration tax).
So there you have it. I can only assume that the Texas Rangers inspired Texas-based Silencer Shop to invent the “one silencer, one trust” Single Shot Trust. Regardless, it’s the simplest, best, most flexible way to purchase and register NFA items.